- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Federal officials are assessing the Nebraska Medical Center biocontainment unit’s ability to treat people who contract the deadly Ebola virus, although there aren’t immediate plans to do so.

Officials with the U.S. State Department inspected the biocontainment unit in Omaha on Friday, The Omaha World-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1m9A1ie ).

The inspection came as officials prepared to fly two Americans infected with the virus from West Africa into the U.S. for treatment - the first time anyone infected with Ebola has been brought into the country.

There are no immediate plans to transfer Ebola patients to the Omaha hospital, said Dr. Philip Smith, medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit.

But the Omaha medical center’s 10-bed biocontainment unit is considered to be the largest quarantine and treatment facility in the country and could be used if officials discover an Ebola-sickened traveler in the region.

Other biocontainment units in the U.S. are at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which is where the two infected Americans will be treated.

The current Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has sickened more than 1,300 people and killed more than 700 this year. It is the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

Ebola begins with fever, headache and weakness and can escalate to vomiting, diarrhea and kidney and liver problems. In some cases, patients bleed both internally and externally. The fatality rate for Ebola is about 70 percent, according to health officials.

The Nebraska biocontainment unit opened in 2005, two years after several nations experienced an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The $1 million unit has so far treated only one person, a traveler five years ago from Africa whose symptoms concerned emergency room workers in a Nebraska town, Smith said. The patient proved to have malaria, which doesn’t require quarantine.

___

Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com