By Dennis Thompson and E.J. Mundell
SATURDAY, Aug. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The first of two Americans stricken with the Ebola virus in the West Africa nation of Liberia is expected to arrive in Atlanta by air on Saturday for treatment, according to media reports.
According to the Associated Press, the second patient will arrive in Atlanta for treatment at a specially equipped medical center a few days later.
"The State Department, together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is facilitating a medical evacuation for two U.S. citizens who have been infected by Ebola in West Africa," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday in a statement, NBC News reported.
The two Americans -- currently being treated in Monrovia, Liberia -- are Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 59. Both had been working at clinics in Liberia, helping victims of an outbreak that the World Health Organization says has already killed at least 729 people.
Brantly is working with aid agency Samaritan's Purse. The group issued a statement describing both patients as being in "serious condition."
Writebol is affiliated with another aid agency, SIM (Serving in Mission). In a statement from the group issued Friday, her condition was described as "serious but stable." SIM president Bruce Johnson said that "we are so heartened that Nancy is in stable condition and that plans are underway to bring her back to the U.S. We are grateful for the help and support of the U.S. State Department in this endeavor."
"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," Harf added.
According to NBC News, Emory University hospital in Atlanta said Thursday that it was preparing a special isolation ward to receive at least one of the Ebola patients.
A plane rigged with special equipment designed to contain the virus and care for the patient during flight will carry the individual to Atlanta, with help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported.
A State Department spokesman told the news network that, "The CDC has devised plans and equipment to do it safely. Patients were evacuated in similar ways during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and in cases involving drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2007."
According to Emory, the patient will be cared for in a special isolation unit with "equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation." The hospital told NBC that its staff is regularly trained "in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient."
There's no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which wreaks life-threatening havoc on the body by attacking multiple organ systems simultaneously.
Instead, doctors must fall back on the basics of "good, meticulous intensive care," supporting the patient and targeting treatment toward organs that are under attack, explained Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Hospital and an expert on the disease.
"You treat the things that are failing," Norman said. "If a person is dehydrated, you treat them with IV fluid support. If a person has respiratory failure, you put them on a ventilator."
According to Dr Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY, Ebola's ravages are such that even young, healthy patient -- who usually can fight off most serious illnesses -- have a high death rate. Pumping fluids into patients remains the best front-line treatment for Ebola, to limit the damage caused by inflammation, he said.
In related news, CNN reports that a retired American doctor who had been helping Ebola patients in Monrovia has returned to the United States this week and placed himself in voluntary quarantine in his hometown of Morristown, Tenn.
Dr Alan Jamison, 69, said he has had no symptoms of Ebola and his last encounter with an Ebola patient was July 19. He plans to place himself in isolation in his home for 21 days, the incubation period for the disease (meaning the time elapsed between infection and any onset of symptoms).
"I'm feeling normal and doing the typical things a person would do in their home," he told CNN. " I have my family who can bring me food if I need anything, and they would not enter the house. They can leave items outside the home."
For more on the Ebola virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.