ATLANTA — The first of two American aid workers infected with Ebola while working in West Africa arrived in the United States on Saturday aboard a private air ambulance specially equipped to isolate patients with infectious diseases and was quickly admitted to a hospital here.
The jet carrying Dr. Kent Brantly, who is believed to be the first patient with the virus to be treated at a hospital in the United States, landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base after refueling in Maine.
With news helicopters flying overhead, a police-escorted ambulance carrying Brantly arrived at Emory University Hospital, which has a containment unit for patients with dangerous infectious diseases.
The unit was built more than a decade ago with consultation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has its headquarters nearby.
Not long after the ambulance pulled into a service entrance at Emory, television footage recorded from helicopters showed Brantly, dressed in protective gear, walking into the hospital with assistance.
The ambulance left the hospital, its driver wearing a white hazardous materials suit. Security was tight at the hospital: Ahead of Brantly’s admission, law enforcement officers were posted around the building, and a police canine unit performed an inspection.
Although Emory, citing health privacy laws, declined to identify the patient, the Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse said it was Brantly.
He and the other infected US aid worker, Nancy Writebol, were working at a hospital in Liberia that was treating patients with Ebola.
Samaritan’s Purse said Writebol would return to the United States “within the next few days” for treatment at Emory.
At a news conference Friday, Dr. Bruce S. Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who will be involved in their care, said, “The reason we are bringing these patients back to our facility is because we feel they deserve to have the highest level of care offered for their treatment.”
Both patients will receive what Ribner described as “supportive care” focused on maintaining their vital functions, like blood pressure and breathing.
“We depend on the body’s defenses to control the virus,” he said. “We just have to keep the patient alive long enough in order for the body to control this infection.”
Ribner said Emory would have a robust roster of medical workers handling the care of Brantly and Writebol, including four infectious disease doctors, a rotating cast of nurses and, as needed, subspecialists.
Dr. Alexander P. Isakov, the executive director of Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, said in an interview that the staff in the containment unit had volunteered to work there and that some who were supposed to be on vacation had offered to cancel their plans to take care of the new patients.
Brantly and Writebol will be housed in a unit that is small and positioned well away from other patients at the sprawling hospital.
They will probably have limited contact with visitors, Ribner said, communicating with nonmedical personnel through telephones and an intercom system. A sheet of glass will separate the ill from the healthy.
Isakov said the unit had been used only three to five times since it was built, in each case for patients suspected of having serious diseases such as SARS, but who turned out not to have those illnesses. This is the first time the unit will house patients who are truly infected with a dangerous disease.
Ribner said, “We have far more training exercises than we do activations because of patients with these pathogens.”
Although the State Department said it had been involved in facilitating the evacuations from Liberia, Emory said that Samaritan’s Purse was paying for the transportation and care of the workers.
Ribner said that Emory officials had communicated with state and county regulators about the patients but that the air ambulance service, the Phoenix Air Group, had been responsible for securing the necessary clearances to bring the two to the United States.
Ribner was among those who dismissed rising fears, often appearing online, that the arrivals of the two patients would spread the infection here.
“From the time the air ambulance arrives in the metropolitan Atlanta area, up to and including being hospitalized at Emory University Hospital,” he said, “we have taken every precaution that we know and that our colleagues at the CDC know to ensure that there is no spread of this virus pathogen.”