December 21, 2014

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US doctor infected with Ebola heading to Nebraska

In this Oct. 28, 2006, file photo, a mock patient is wheeled in an isolation pod during a drill at the Nebraska biocontainment unit in the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

In this Oct. 28, 2006, file photo, a mock patient is wheeled in an isolation pod during a drill at the Nebraska biocontainment unit in the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A doctor who became infected with Ebola while working in Liberia — the third American aid worker sickened with the virus — is expected to arrive Friday at a Nebraska hospital for treatment.

Officials at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha have said Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, will begin treatment in the hospital’s 10-bed special isolation unit, the largest of four such units in the U.S.

Sacra, who’s from the Boston area, opted to head to Liberia after hearing that two other missionaries were sick. He served with the North Carolina-based charity SIM. Sacra wasn’t involved in the treatment of Ebola patients but delivered babies, so it’s unclear how he got infected with the virus that has killed about 1,900 people.

Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the Omaha unit, said doctors there will focus on providing Sacra with basic care, including keeping him hydrated and keeping his vital signs stable. Smith said a team of 35 doctors, nurses and other medical staffers will attend to Sacra.

The team is discussing experimental treatments, including using blood serum from a patient who has recovered from Ebola, Smith said.

“We’ve been trying to collect as much information on possible treatments as we can,” Smith said.

There are no licensed drugs or vaccines for the disease, but about a half dozen are in development. None has been tested in humans, but an early trial of one vaccine began this week in the United States.

Much attention has focused on the unproven drug ZMapp, which was given to seven patients, two of whom died. But the limited supply is now exhausted and its developer says it will take months to make even a modest amount.

The first two American aid workers infected by Ebola — Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — have recovered since being flown to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

Smith and several other doctors with the unit repeatedly said Sacra’s transfer to Omaha posed no threat to the public, noting Ebola is transmitted through close contact with an infected person.

He said Sacra was in stable condition in Liberia and was able to board the plane to the U.S. under his own power, but added, “He has a long plane ride ahead of him.”

SIM’s president, Bruce Johnson, said Sacra was receiving excellent care at a center in Liberia, but that the Nebraska facility provides advanced monitoring equipment and has a wider availability of treatment options.

Sacra’s wife, Debbie, said at a news conference at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester that her husband was in good spirits as he boarded the plane Thursday. She said the couple had known there was a risk of him getting infected with Ebola when he left for Liberia in August.

“I knew he needed to be with the Liberian people,” she said. “He was so concerned about the children that were going to die from malaria without hospitalization and the women who had no place to go to deliver their babies by cesarean section. He’s not someone who can stand back if there’s a need he can take care of.”