WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two Americans infected with Ebola in West Africa will be evacuated back to the United States in the coming days to be cared for in strict isolation, officials said on Friday.
Kent Brantly, a doctor who was treating Ebola patients in Liberia, and Christian missionary worker Nancy Writebol, are being flown home but the exact timing of their arrival is uncertain, their aid groups said.
Both are in serious but stable condition and are headed for special care isolation units at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, after battling for their lives amid the worst outbreak of the virus in history.
The hemorrhagic fever has killed 729 people of the more than 1,300 infected since March.
The World Health Organization said the fast-moving outbreak was causing "catastrophic" loss of life in the affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
"The safety and security of US citizens is our paramount concern," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, confirming her agency was facilitating the medical evacuation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Every precaution is being taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route on a non-commercial aircraft and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States." They will be "taken to medical facilities with appropriate isolation and treatment capabilities," Ms Harf added.
Both patients will be sent to Emory University Hospital, though they may arrive at separate times, according to Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist.
In contrast to where they are currently receiving treatment, "we can deliver a substantially higher level of care and a substantially higher level of support to optimize the likelihood that those patients will survive this episode," he told a news conference.
The hospital said it has a "specially built isolation unit" made for patients with certain serious infectious diseases and which is one of only four such facilities in the country.
The Pentagon said the patients would be arriving in a non-military plane at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.
"We are grateful that Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol made it through the night," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, the group for which Brantly worked.
"They remain in serious condition. The medical evacuations could be complete early in the week."
- Travel harmful? -
CDC chief Tom Frieden said the decision to evacuate the two Americans was made by the aid groups for which they worked, not the CDC, though the agency "want(s) to support them in their decision." "One thing we've traditionally said is that if someone has Ebola, the risk of medical evaluation may well outweigh the benefits of a higher level of medical care," Mr Frieden told CNN.
"A flight over the ocean is arduous. Someone who has Ebola may have delicate arteries and veins. That may lead to bleeding complications. So travel itself may be harmful." Harf said CDC protocols were being followed in an effort to protect "the patient and the American public, as has been done with similar medical evacuations in the past." The World Health Organization warned West Africa's Ebola-hit nations that the epidemic was spiraling out of control and could spread to other countries.
The WHO raised the death toll by 57 to 729 on Thursday, announcing that 122 new cases had been detected between Thursday and Sunday last week, bringing the total to more than 1,300 since the epidemic began earlier this year.