Over the course of the last month, international media turned its attention to Emory’s campus as the University treated two American aid workers infected with the Ebola virus in a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. The two patients, who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia in the largest outbreak in recorded history, were released earlier this month.
According to a July 31 all-Emory email, it was announced that the patients would be held in a special isolation unit set up in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of four such facilities in the country.
It marked the first time Ebola patients set foot in the United States.
Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist with Emory Hospital who oversaw the patients’ care, said in an Aug. 1 press conference that transporting the patients to Emory for treatment could markedly increase their chances of survival.
“We have two individuals who are critically ill, and we feel that we owe them the right to receive the best medical care,” Ribner said during the press conference.
The first patient, Texas-based physician Kent Brantly, arrived at Emory University Hospital on Aug. 2 in the afternoon, while Nancy Writebol, a Charlotte, N.C. aid worker, arrived on Aug. 5. Both patients are affiliated with missionary organizations.
In a July 31 email to the Emory Healthcare community, Associate Vice President of Communications Vince Dollard wrote that while at Emory Hospital, the Ebola patients were physically isolated from the rest of the community and that there was no need for fear or concern.
“Emory University Hospital has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases,” Dollard wrote. “It is physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation.”
Dollard’s email went on to say that the members of the isolation unit are “highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient” and are “fully prepared for this type of situation.”
According to the most recent numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), over 3,000 cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since March with over 1,500 fatalities. The outbreak, which has been concentrated in localities in West Africa, has been called a humanitarian crisis and the WHO is conducting ongoing investigations of outbreaks in various places throughout the world.
Transmission of the virus comes from “direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person or exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions,” according to the CDC website on Ebola.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times that the spread of Ebola in the United States is highly unlikely.
“Given the health care infrastructure and our ability to isolate people who are infected and to take care of them with the proper protective equipment, it is extraordinarily unlikely that there would be an outbreak in the United States so people should not worry,” Fauci said. “It’s the lack of health care infrastructure that leads to the problems.”
While there is no cure for Ebola, ZMapp, an experimental serum being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., was administered to Brantly and Writebol.
While Brantly and Writebol did recover, the treatment has only been tested on monkeys and did not conclusively lead to the patients’ survival, according to an ABC News article.
Brantly was released from Emory University Hospital on Aug. 21, where he spoke at a press conference about his experimental treatment, ZMapp, and the level of care given to him by the Emory team.
Writebol was released from the hospital on Aug. 19.
–By Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler 16C is the political reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting, the statewide NPR affiliate in Georgia. He graduated from Emory with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and covered the central administration and Greek Life for the Wheel before serving as assistant news editor, Emory Life editor and the Executive Digital Editor from 2015-16.