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As Dr. Kent Brantly settled in for his battle with Ebola at Emory University Hospital Sunday, a fight of another kind raged outside: the public outcry over the decision to admit Ebola virus into the United States, and infectious disease experts’ efforts to tamp down the concern.
Appearing on national news shows Sunday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, echoed a long line of public health authorities in reassuring the public; he expressed full confidence that the Ebola outbreak in Africa can be stopped. Moreover, the first Emory patient already appeared to be improving, Frieden told CBS and NBC news.
Within the hospital, caregivers — all of them volunteers — eagerly went to work, at least one of them canceling a vacation to Cancun for the opportunity to do her job; and the nursing chief said she still had “no doubts about secondary infections.”
Outside, just blocks from the hospital, some Decatur residents interviewed Sunday afternoon said they were satisfied with the decision to bring Brantly and his colleague Nancy Writebol, to the United States. Writebol is expected to leave Liberia on Tuesday for her flight to Atlanta, the Associated Press reported Sunday night.
“I’m not concerned,” said Ghila Sanders, a programmer at a museum, as her family browsed at a bookstore just around the corner from where Brantly is being treated. “I’m trusting they’ll keep him safe and away from the population.”
“You can always find hysterical people,” said her husband, David Sanders, an electrical engineer, referring to an eruption on the blogosphere of fear and loathing over the prospect of Ebola in the U.S.
The opposition may not include many infectious disease experts, but it isn’t limited to a few hysterics online.
Donald Siegel, a DeKalb County surgeon and former chief of aerospace medicine at Dobbins Air Force Base — where a specially equipped plane landed with Brantly on Saturday — thinks the decision to bring the patients here is “foolish.”
He said he doesn’t understand why CDC wouldn’t have flown the equipment and personnel to Africa. He’s not panicking; in fact, he’s been on Emory’s campus before and says he would have no concern about going there again.
But, he said, “If the risk is minuscule but the results are a catastrophe, why risk it?”
Emory and CDC officials have emphasized that Ebola has been so dangerous partly because of where it occurs, in countries with limited medical care. The current outbreak is in West Africa — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — and the officials insist that with meticulous attention to hygiene protocols, and access to proper equipment to monitor and address hydration and bleeding, Ebola will be less of a danger.
“We do know how to stop Ebola,” the CDC’s Frieden said on NBC Sunday morning.
“It’s old-fashioned, plain and simple public health,” Frieden said. “Find the patients, make sure they get treated, find their contacts, track them, educate people, do infection control at hospitals. You do those things, but you have to do them really well, and Ebola goes away.”
To that end, Frieden said, the health agency is sending 50 public health professionals to three African countries in the next 30 days.
While there is no cure or vaccine, some bodies can fight it off, if their basic functions get enough support to keep up the battle.
That’s what Emory hopes to offer Brantly and and Writebol.
Emory has so far refused to identify the first patient, although it is widely known that it’s Brantly. A hospital spokeswoman said Sunday that the patient has asked that the hospital release no information on his condition.
As Emory Healthcare’s chief nursing executive, Susan Grant was one of those who planned for years for this event.
She said that the team includes 16 nurses, and at any given time each patient will have one nurse within his or her room, and one in a special anteroom helping to run equipment and transfer things in and out. They will wear closed suits with hoods, discarding each suit upon leaving the room.
“These folks have been on standby for a long time for something like this,” Grant said. She doesn’t see the problem as foreign, but as a pathogen that exists on our planet, contracted by an American who went there to fight it. Treating him is Emory’s basic responsibility, she said.
“We all need to be in this effort to eradicate this disease,” she said. “In my mind this is what great institutions do. This is what the public expects of great institutions: that we are able to manage these sorts of things and do it competently and safely.”
That said, she still insists that the danger is minimal, given proper attention to detail.
“I feel very, very confident” that her staff, the hospital’s occupants and the public are safe, Grant said. “One of my primary responsibilities is obviously to protect the safety of our patients — but also our nurses and our patient care staff. I would not agree to put people in harm’s way if that was not something that we could ensure.”