After 19 days of treatment, Dr. Craig Spencer no longer has the Ebola virus and will be discharged from the hospital Tuesday, according to The New York Times. The number of Ebola cases in the United States now stands at zero.
Since entering Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan with a fever of 100.3 degrees on Oct. 23, Spencer has received every Ebola treatment available, including blood plasma from recovered patient Nancy Writebol. Reports had even surfaced of the doctor playing the banjo in isolation during his recovery.
Spencer, 33, the only patient currently hospitalized for Ebola in the United States, contracted the disease while caring for patients in Guinea — one of three West African countries significantly affected by the Ebola outbreak — with Doctors Without Borders.
Revelations that Spencer had eaten at a restaurant, gone bowling, and taken the subway and a taxi in the days prior to showing symptoms incited fears among the public and the media of a possible Ebola outbreak in the Big Apple. In the days after he voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital, public health officials scurried to find people with whom Spencer may have contacted. On the other side of the country, guests of an infectious diseases conference in Louisiana were told not to attend if they had recently been exposed to Ebola patients.
In response to the hysteria over Spencer, lawmakers announced a 21-day Ebola quarantine period for health workers coming from Ebola-inflicted regions at airports in New Jersey, New York, and other ports of international travel. Prominent critics — including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Obama — have since spoken out against the quarantines, describing the decision as a political move devoid of any scientific reasoning. Doctors Without Borders also warned that the unnecessary isolation would discourage health workers from answering the call to action in West Africa.
New Jersey’s 21-day quarantine rule was put to the test when nurse Kaci Hickox announced plans to sue the state shortly after health officials placed her in isolation upon her return from Sierra Leone. Hickox objected to the quarantine in part because she showed no signs of having contracted Ebola.
Days after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released Hickox, she has faced even more scrutiny in her home state of Maine where Gov. Paul LePage (R) ordered her to stay home, despite having tested negative for Ebola twice. Last week, she defied those orders and went on a bike ride with her boyfriend along a trail not too far from her home.
Supporters say Hickox’s act of defiance serves as an example of why it’s unnecessary to confine health workers returning from Western Africa to their homes. In Hickox’s case, it’s not likely that she could have put anyone in danger while biking less than a mile down a quiet road.
The CDC agrees. In new guidance for health workers who recently returned from Ebola-stricken areas, CDC Director Tom Friedan has recommended that health workers’ movements should only be restricted on a case-by-case basis, especially since those who don’t show symptoms can’t pass the disease onto others. He even suggested that while asymptomatic individuals should avoid crowded public places, there’s little harm in taking part in “non-congregant” activities like jogging or bike riding.
Though it’s unclear whether Spencer will return to his apartment where his fiancée is under quarantine, health officials are celebrating another victory against the Ebola virus. Some people say this recent example speaks to the ability of nation’s health care system to tackle Ebola.
While the virus has infected more than 10,000 people — nearly half of whom have died — in West Africa, it has been a different story in the regions with a stable infrastructure and an abundance of medical personnel and supplies. After six domestic cases, the survival rate stood at 83 percent, compared to that of 30 to 40 percent at the virus’ epicenter.