OMAHA, Neb. – An American photojournalist who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia is expected to arrive today in Nebraska, where he will be treated for the virus that has ravaged West Africa.
Ashoka Mukpo, 33, will be the second Ebola patient to be treated at the Nebraska Medical Center’s specialized isolation unit. Mukpo was working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC News when he became ill last week.
NBC reported Sunday evening that Mukpo had started his journey to the U.S. for treatment and that he would arrive this morning. Mukpo’s family said Friday he would be treated in Omaha.
Mukpo is the fifth American to return to the United States for treatment since the start of the latest Ebola outbreak, which the World Health Organization estimates has killed more than 3,400 people.
The hospital’s biocontainment unit was created in 2005 specifically to handle this kind of illness, said Dr. Phil Smith, who oversees the unit.
“We are ready, willing and able to care for this patient,” Smith said. “We consider it our duty to give these American citizens the best possible care we can.”
Mukpo’s father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, told NBC on Sunday that his son was “counting the minutes” until he could leave Liberia but that he was not feeling that ill Sunday. Levy said the family was traveling from Rhode Island to Nebraska.
Doctors at the isolation unit – the largest of four nationwide – will evaluate Mukpo before determining how to treat him. They said they will apply the lessons learned while treating American aid worker Rick Sacra in September. Sacra was successfully treated in the Nebraska unit and was allowed to return to his home in Massachusetts after three weeks, on Sept. 25.
In Dallas, another man who recently traveled to the U.S. from Liberia was listed in critical condition Sunday. Thomas Eric Duncan has been hospitalized at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital since Sept. 28. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he was aware that Duncan’s health had “taken a turn for the worse,” but he declined to describe Duncan’s condition further.
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids – blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen – of an infected person who is showing symptoms.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. Officials say 10 people definitely had close contact with Duncan and a further 38 may have been around him when he was showing symptoms of the disease.
Before he was admitted to the hospital, Duncan stayed with Louise Troh, her 13-year-old son and two nephews in their northeast Dallas apartment. The family has been kept in isolation in an undisclosed location since Friday and a hazardous materials crew has twice decontaminated their home. No one in the family has developed Ebola symptoms.
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