OMAHA, Neb. (CBS/AP) — A photojournalist from Rhode Island who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia arrived in Nebraska Monday morning, 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, of Providence, RI, was working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC News when he became ill last week. Mukpo is not certain when he contracted the disease, but believes it may have happened when he was using a power-washer to disinfect a car that a person had died in.
The specially-equipped plane carrying Mukpo first landed early Monday in Bangor, Maine, to refuel before making the final leg of its journey to Omaha, where his family said he would be treated. The plane landed just before 8:30 a.m. eastern time.
Doctors at Nebraska Medical Center joined Mukpo’s parents during a Monday afternoon press conference, where his mother said Mukpo is “enormously relieved to be here.”
“Of course it’s still quite frightening, but he’s hanging in and he’s very strong,” said Diana Mukpo.
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 Nebraska 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, said on Monday that he saw his son walk off the plane when he arrived in Nebraska. Mukpo waved to his parents as he was wheeled to his room, Levy said.
Levy said that he and Diana Mukpo each tried to convince their son not to return to Liberia. Mukpo had returned to the United States in May, but on Sept. 4 went back to West Africa to continue his work as a photojournalist.
“I’m proud of him,” said Levy. “And at the same time I would prefer he would go somewhere safer.”
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 Dr. Rick Sacra in September. Sacra was successfully treated in the Nebraska unit and was allowed to return to his home in Holden, Massachusetts after three weeks, on Sept. 25.
He was recently admitted to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester for respiratory issues, but tests showed he is still ebola-free and was released on Monday.
Sacra received an experimental Tekmira Pharmaceuticals drug called TKM-Ebola in Nebraska, as well as two blood transfusions from another American aid worker who recovered from Ebola at an Atlanta hospital.
The transfusions are believed to help a patient fight off the virus because the survivor’s blood carries antibodies for the disease. Sacra also received supportive care, including IV fluids and aggressive electrolyte management.
Doctors at Monday’s press conference said they are “considering all options” in treating Mukpo. They added that if experimental treatments become available, Mukpo will need to be aware of the benefits and potential risks to those treatments.
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.
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