Some Midlanders already knew more than they wanted to know about the Ebola virus. They knew it was ravaging African nations. They knew it killed. They knew it could one day spread.
That's why concerns about bringing an infected American doctor from Liberia to the Nebraska Medical Center were understandable. Fear is not an irrational response to a disease that has no vaccine and no cure.
Still, it has been comforting to watch the dedicated work of those at the Nebraska Medical Center, where a rare, world-class unit was built after 9/11 to make sure that our country would have secure facilities to properly treat victims of bioterrorism. Given the impressive capabilities of these medical professionals, such facilities also are intended to help victims of the world's worst infectious illnesses.
With 10 secure beds in a wing so separated from the rest of the hospital that it has its own ventilation system, the Nebraska Medical Center hosts the nation's largest biocontainment unit for deadly, contagious diseases. It was designed to handle evils like Ebola, smallpox, plague and SARS.
Omaha hosts one of only four such biocontainment units nationally. The others are at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, at Emory University in Atlanta and in Missoula, Montana.
The Omaha unit's 30 medical staffers, doctors, nurses, lab workers and technicians are trained to safely handle these situations. These disease-fighting experts are on-call 24/7, ready to help. In a world in which bioterror threats are a sobering reality, it's crucial for our nation to have treatment facilities of this sophistication and security.
"Not only will this patient receive world-class care, but all of our patients, students, faculty and staff will be completely protected and safe, " said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of UNMC.
These are the people you want fighting such an illness. And in this case, their patient is a kindred soul.
Dr. Rick Sacra, the Massachusetts-based physician and Ebola patient now being treated in Omaha, had been helping address the serious shortage of medical workers in Liberia. The world needs more capable workers like him in Ebola-stressed nations before the disease spreads too far to be effectively managed.
Health experts internationally are scrambling to find and replicate treatments that work. There is some promising news about the drug that helped an Ebola-infected American in Atlanta, but the supplies are dramatically limited. There's even talk of a possible vaccine.
But that work takes time. For now, the infectious disease specialists at the Nebraska Medical Center are working to keep Sacra comfortable and stable and help him survive to fight off the disease himself or find some help.
As Dr. Joseph Acierno, the State of Nebraska's chief medical officer, acknowledged, there is risk anytime someone with an infectious disease comes in contact with people, but he and other regional health experts describe the risk as minimal.
One reason for that confidence is the biocontainment facility, which is broken up into essentially concrete boxes, each with strict protocols for decontamination, as The World-Herald's Bob Glissmann reported. Another is the professional work and capability of hospital staff.
A group that has advertised its care as extraordinary is now showing that to the world. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for Sacra and safe deployment of the biocontainment unit.