- Hospital trip: Once the plane lands, there's another transfer to a special ambulance with a tent-like structure covering the patient. The route will be kept quiet to minimize traffic and publicity. At the hospital, workers deploy a well-rehearsed plan that details where the ambulance is supposed to pull up. The patient is put into a containment center and is not allowed to leave. Staff members have to go through a two-phase decontamination procedure for all of their clothing, while chemical sprays used to kill the virus must also go to a separate system instead of the normal hospital sewer pipe.
- Staying alive: The infection can last from several days to several weeks. "What the doctors are trying to do is minimize the damage and get the organs through the infection and stay alive," Pekosz said. "Clearly it can be done at Emory, but it cannot be done on the ground in Africa."
In Africa, officials from the CDC and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases are working overtime to control the spread of the disease and perhaps develop a treatment. USAMRIID virologist Randal Schoepp has been in Monrovia for the past two weeks using a molecular genetic test to identify patients who have contracted the disease. Schoepp said the rate of new infections is rising in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Watch "Ebola: Are We Next?" on Thursday, Sep. 18, starting at 9/8c on both Discovery Channel and Discovery Fit & Health.
The World Health Organization said Friday that the outbreak has killed 729 people and infected another 1,200. However, Schoepp said that could be an underestimate.
"We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg," Schoepp said during a teleconference from Monrovia. "To really control the outbreak, you need contact tracing, contacts with confirmed Ebola patients that could be then followed for the possibility of them being infected. We don't have a good system here set up for that. I believe we are only seeing a small portion of the actual cases out there. It's putting a tremendous stress on the medical system."
Schoepp said drivers are afraid to bring back medical samples to scientists like him working in a specialized laboratory.
"In Sierra Leone and Liberia, we are seeing an increase in samples and positive samples," Schoepp said. "That indicates that we are still on an increasing slope and haven't reached the peak yet."
In the meantime, U.S. officials will be closely watching to see if the two Americans who are being returned home survive and whether Ebola will remain inside containment.
"This is going to be a first experience bringing Ebola patients to the United States," Pekosz said. "It's going to be followed very closely not only by the press, but medical authorities. This is where everybody starts to learn."