A hospital in the southern United States said Thursday it was preparing to receive an Ebola patient “within the next several days” for treatment in its specialized containment unit.
News of the pending transfer came just hours after American health authorities issued a warning against travel to three West African nations facing the largest outbreak of the deadly virus in history.
The current outbreak has killed 729 people in West Africa since March, according to the World Health Organization.
The hemorrhagic fever can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, though this outbreak has killed about 60 percent of those infected.
“Emory University Hospital has been informed that there are plans to transfer a patient with Ebola virus infection to its special facility containment unit within the next several days,” the institution said.
The hospital, located in Atlanta, Georgia, said it “has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is “physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinary high level of clinical isolation.”
It was not immediately clear if the patient in question was one of two Americans stricken with the virus in Liberia. Both are listed in stable but grave condition.
CNN, citing an unnamed source, reported that a US-contracted medical charter flight had left Georgia to evacuate the two.
At least one would be taken to the Emory University Hospital, the broadcaster cited hospital officials as saying. The hospital did not immediately return a call from AFP.
Earlier, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said talks were under way for potential medical evacuations of US humanitarian workers who have contracted Ebola.
“The State Department and the CDC are working to facilitate options for potential medevacs for US patients, specifically American citizen humanitarian workers,” he said.
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, added that “every precaution will be taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”
In its travel warning, the CDC urged “all US residents to avoid non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
CDC chief Tom Frieden stressed that direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea, are necessary to contract Ebola.
“It is important to understand how it spreads,” Frieden told reporters. “It does not spread from people who are not sick with it.”
He said the travel advisory was issued because the ongoing Ebola outbreak in these countries poses a potential risk to travelers.
“Particularly if you are traveling to the area and you happen to fall ill or be injured in a car crash and need to go to a medical facility that might have recognized or unrecognized spread of Ebola.”
Over the next month, the CDC is also sending 50 extra specialists to the affected areas in West Africa, he said.
But the State Department has no plans to close its embassies in the affected countries or to reduce staffing.
“There’s been no change in our status with any of those embassies,” Harf said.
Even in the best of circumstances, the current outbreak could go on for six months or more, Frieden warned.
“It is like fighting a forest fire. If you leave behind even one burning ember, one case undetected, it could reignite the epidemic.”
A key part of the response is isolating patients who are ill, according to Frieden.
“Any hospital with an intensive care unit has the capacity to isolate patients,” he said.
“There is nothing particularly special about the isolation of an Ebola patient, other than it is really important to do it right.”