New York: A Doctors Without Borders physician who was declared free of Ebola said Tuesday he was living proof that early detection and isolation can stop the spread of the deadly virus, and he called for a better focus at the center of the outbreak in West Africa.
With Dr. Craig Spencer's recovery, there are no Ebola patients currently under treatment in the U.S.
“Today, I am healthy,” a smiling Spencer said as he was released after nearly three weeks in Bellevue Hospital.
Spencer was diagnosed Oct. 23, days after his return from Guinea, where he had been treating Ebola patients with the nonprofit medical group.
Hours after his release, Spencer's fiancee was released from being quarantined at their Harlem apartment. Officials said she would instead be monitored, along with nearly 300 other people, including some Bellevue workers and recent travelers from West Africa.
Spencer's treatment included a transfusion of blood plasma from another Ebola survivor, health officials said. The emergency room doctor is expected to return to work soon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University.
“Please join me in turning our attention back to West Africa,” where the virus has killed thousands of people this year, Spencer said after thanking Bellevue staffers who treated him and getting a hug from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio praised New Yorkers for not panicking, the city's public health system for its preparedness and effectiveness, and Spencer for showing “us what it means to help your fellow human.”
Spencer talked by telephone with President Barack Obama, who was in Beijing and thanked him for his service to the United States and to the people of West Africa.
Spencer had done medical work overseas several times before he spent more than five weeks caring for Ebola patients in Guinea.
During his time in Guinea, Spencer said he cried as he held children not strong enough to survive the virus and was overjoyed when patients he treated were cured.
He said his Guinean colleagues are “the heroes no one is talking about: Those who have been on the front lines since Day One and saw friends and family members die continue to fight to save their communities with so much compassion and dignity.”
Officials have stressed that Ebola is not airborne and can be spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Still, news of Spencer's infection unnerved some New Yorkers, particularly after they learned that he rode the subway, dined out and went bowling in the days before he developed a fever and tested positive.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responded by announcing a mandatory, 21-day quarantine for travelers who have come in close contact with Ebola patients. That touched off a debate over how far government should go in keeping tabs on health care workers who treat Ebola.
Spencer, 33, said he was “a living example” of the success of self-monitoring procedures, quick detection and isolation, and he expressed concern about health and aid workers being stigmatized on returning home from West Africa.
“Volunteers need to be supported to help fight this outbreak at its source,” he said.
Only a few people have been treated for Ebola in the United States. One, Liberian visitor Thomas Eric Duncan, died; the others recovered.
Meanwhile, a nurse who said she defied quarantines in New Jersey and Maine on behalf of all health care workers returning from fighting Ebola in West Africa ended a 21-day Ebola incubation period late Monday. Kaci Hickox, who had treated patients in Sierra Leone, said she and her boyfriend plan to move to southern Maine as soon as this weekend.