NEW YORK — A Doctors Without Borders physician who was declared free of Ebola said 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.
Dr. Craig Spencer was released from Bellevue Hospital during a joyous news conference where medical team members were cheering, hooting and hugging. Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife and most of the medical team embraced the doctor.
Spencer thanked the medical team for his recovery and said he received excellent care. He was diagnosed Oct. 23, days after his return from Guinea, where he had been treating Ebola patients with the nonprofit.
“While my case has garnered international attention, my infection represents but a fraction of the more than 13,000 reported cases to date in West Africa, the center of the outbreak, where families are being torn apart and communities destroyed,” he said.
During his time there, he said, he cried as he held children not strong enough to survive the virus and was overjoyed when patients he treated were cured.
“Within a week of ?my diagnosis?, ?many of these same patients called? my personal phone to wish me well and ask if there was any way they could contribute to my care,” he said.
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.”
With Spencer’s recovery, there are no Ebola patients currently under treatment in the U.S. Spencer’s fiancee is still under quarantine until Nov. 14. Officials continue to monitor nearly 300 people, including hospital workers and recent travelers from West Africa.
Praise was doled out at the news conference for Spencer, the medical team that treated him and the administration, which prepared swiftly and entirely for the eventual landing of the virus in the nation’s most populous city.
“Dr. Spencer showed us what it means to help your fellow human,” de Blasio said.
New York health officials said good planning and preparation for the virus was behind the containment of the illness. Dr. Ram Raju, the President of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, said it was the “vindication of this health care system.”
“I’ve never ever seen before the level of collaboration, and cooperation that went on behind the scenes to prepare New York City for Ebola,” Raju said.
Health officials have stressed that Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Still, news of Spencer’s infection set many New Yorkers on edge, particularly after they learned that he rode the subway, dined in a meatball restaurant and visited a bowling alley 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. De Blasio urged residents not to be alarmed by Spencer’s diagnosis, saying that those not exposed were not at risk.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed thousands of people, but only a handful of people have been treated in the United States.
Besides Spencer, they include American health and aid workers and a journalist who fell ill in West Africa, a Liberian man diagnosed with the virus during a visit to Texas and two nurses who contracted it from him. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, died; the rest have recovered.
A nurse who fought quarantines in New Jersey and Maine upon her return from Sierra Leone is now freed from daily monitoring. Monday marked the 21st day since Kaci Hickox’s last exposure to an Ebola patient.
(COLLEEN LONG and JENNIFER PELTZ)