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Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 8:50am

Second American Aid Worker With Ebola Arrives At Emory

A 58-year-old health care worker with Ebola has arrived at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she’ll be treated in an isolation unit for the deadly disease.

Nancy Writebol is one of two American workers who contracted Ebola in West Africa in the last week. The two are the first Americans with Ebola to seek treatment in the U.S.

Emergency workers transported her off of the ambulance on a stretcher. Bruce Johnson, President of SIM, the charity that employs Writebol, read a statement from Writebol’s husband, David, at a press conference.

“A week ago, he said, we were thinking about possible funeral arrangements, yet we kept our faith,” the statement read. “Now we have a real reason to be hopeful.”

As the second American arrived at Emory, an outbreak of the disease in Africa continues to spread. Writebol is one of more than 1,300 people who have contracted the disease since March.

Emory’s team of infectious disease experts, however, have been training for this moment for 12 years, and they say everything is going smoothly.

More than a decade ago, Emory teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to build a specially-equipped isolation unit for treating patients with infectious diseases. Since then, they’ve used the unit for training and to treat a handful of patients with less serious diseases.

Dr. Alex Isakov is overseeing the emergency care provided to the two Ebola patients at Emory. He says that training is paying off at a critical time.

“I think it was conceiving of the unit, doing all that exercise and training, refining our ability to do this over 12 years – that’s why we have the confidence to say, ‘We’ve got this’,” he said in an interview.

The first of the two Americans recently infected with Ebola, Dr. Kent Brantly, arrived at Emory on Friday. He and Writebol were working in Liberia when they contracted Ebola. They both received an emergency serum to fight off the disease. Dr. Isakov declined to provide information on the current condition of Brantly. His employer, the aid organization Samaritan's Purse, says Brantly's condition is improving.

Officials with Samaritan’s Purse declined to make themselves available Tuesday morning for an interview but Isakov says they knew about Emory’s unique position and reached out directly to the hospital.

"Emory is one of just a few number of health centers that have specifically considered care of a patient with Ebola virus,” Isakov said.

Emory officials have made a concerted effort to put the American public at ease. Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, Dr. Bruce Ribner, a professor in the Infectious Disease Division at Emory, said there wasn't any likelihood that there will be secondary cases as a result of these patients coming to the U.S. for their medical care. That's in part because people cannot contract Ebola through casual contact.

"Ebola is not spread by some magic mechanism. If you want to think of analogous organism or virus, you can think about HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C. All of these viral pathogens are spread through close contact, body fluids and blood,” said Ribner on Friday.

The two aid workers are the first Ebola patients to receive treatment not only at Emory, but in the U.S.

Johnson, Writebol's husband, says he hopes with the arrival of the two Americans in the U.S., doctors can dedicate themselves to finding a cure for Ebola. He says the world’s attention is now rightly focused on west Africa, where he says there are only 50 doctors to serve 4 million people.