Medical workers roll patient Nancy Writebol into Emory Hospital. The second American aid worker infected with Ebola arrived Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 in Atlanta. Nancy Writebol arrived in a chartered jet at Dobbins Air Reserve Base and was then taken in an ambulance to Emory University Hospital. She was taken from the ambulance by gurney and rolled into the hospital by suited medical personnel. Three days earlier, Dr. Kent Brantly, also diagnosed with the virus, arrived at Emory walked from the ambulance. The two patients are being treated in an isolation unit. MANDATORY CREDIT / JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: John Spink
Photo: John Spink

2 Ebola patients now in Emory’s care

A second Ebola patient entered Emory University Hospital Tuesday, this time on a stretcher rather than walking, as the first patient did Saturday. But the patient, Nancy Writebol, is feeling better, her husband said, since receiving doses of an experimental drug.

“A week ago, we were thinking about making funeral arrangements for Nancy,” David Writebol, who remains in Liberia, said in a statement. “Now, we have a real reason to be hopeful.”

The outbreak still rages in West Africa, causing Delta to announce that it may begin screening passengers flying out of the area. And as American hospitals screen for Ebola by asking people with flu-like systems if they have passed through the affected region, alarms, many false, have flared.

Delta announced that passengers flying from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, may be required to go through health screenings before entering the airport. The airline recommended they arrive at least two hours early.

Those whose flights are canceled or significantly delayed will be entitled to refunds. Delta is also allowing customers to postpone their trips without paying certain change fees if they have travel plans to, from or through Monrovia and Lagos as well as two other Nigerian cities, Abuja and Port Harcourt, plus Freetown, in Sierra Leone, and Conakry, in Guinea.

Nearly 900 people have died in those four nations during the current outbreak, making it the deadliest since Ebola was identified in 1976.

In the U.S., health officials have voiced confidence that placing two patients at Emory does not pose a danger of contagion to the general public.

Elsewhere, a woman who generated dozens of news stories after being isolated and tested for Ebola at a Columbus, Ohio, hospital turned out not to have the virus, a state health official there said Tuesday. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was still seeking test results on a patient there. But Mount Sinai said the man “likely” does not have the disease and spent Monday night “in good spirits.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which performs the testing, has not yet received the New York sample, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said Tuesday afternoon. But since the outbreak in Africa began the agency has tested a half-dozen such patients across the United States, and all came up negative.

That is the kind of caution that health officials say reduces the likelihood of contagion spreading in this country — certainly not from the two patients flown to Atlanta for care in a specially designed quarantine unit.

In an emotional press conference minutes after Writebol arrived at Emory, the head of the charity that employed her in Liberia, SIM USA, rejoiced in her improved situation.

“I don’t think it got dire, but realistic,” said SIM USA President Bruce Johnson, referring to David Writebol’s comment about planning a funeral. “When you get Ebola, it is a serious situation … This is a serious virus. We have seen the results of people in Liberia who don’t have the care that can be provided here.”

In a statement, David Writebol said: “Nancy is still very, very weak. But she continues to show improvement. She is showing signs of progress and is moving in the right direction.

“We still have a long way to go, but we have reason for hope. I am not anxious, fretful or fearful – just relieved.”

Johnson could not say how Writebol and Brantly were infected. The CDC has a team on the ground investigating that question, he said. While Brantly tended to patients, Writebol was an administrative jack-of-all-trades. She had taken on the disinfecting of people leaving the infection area, spraying them down.

The public should not make too much, he added, of the fact that Brantly walked into the hospital — gingerly, holding the hands of a caregiver — while Writebol was carried in strapped to a gurney. Writebol is two decades older than Brantly, he pointed out, and the overseas travel was exhausting. Her plane left Monrovia just after 9 p.m. Atlanta time, stopped in Maine for refueling at 8 a.m., and landed in Atlanta just before noon.

Asked how he can be certain a similar fate won’t befall any other missionary, Johnson paused.

“There is always a possibility,” he said. “But we are trusting God that it is not going to happen.”

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Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.