American doctor Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday, and Brantly was released on Thursday.
“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said Thursday at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”
Both Writebol and Brantly underwent rigorous blood and urine tests to ensure that the virus was no longer present in their systems.
“The medical staff is confident that the discharge of both patients from this hospital poses no public health threat,” said Bruce Ribner, medical director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit, who led the team that treated both patients.
The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.
Days later, Writebol, a missionary from Charlotte, N.C., was flown to Atlanta in the same “air ambulance.” Her ride from the airport to Emory was covered live by television news helicopters.
In a desperate effort to save them, both patients received an experimental treatment called ZMapp while they were still in Liberia. The unproven treatment appeared to help both patients, so much so that Brantly was seen walking out of the ambulance and into the Emory University Hospital on Aug. 2.
“We are happy that Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol have been released from the hospital and are reunited with their families,” said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement. “Our thoughts are with them as well as with all the Ebola patients in West Africa struggling to survive.”
“We must recommit to doing all we can to increase their chances of survival and to stop the spread of Ebola,” he continued. “This outbreak is unprecedented, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. We must respond in an unprecedented way to stop the outbreak as soon as possible.”
Brantly had traveled to Liberia as part of an aid mission with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization that has treated numerous patients in the West African country hardest hit by Ebola’s spread.
In his statement, he urged governments to do everything possible to end the ongoing epidemic.
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“I’m glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic,” Brantly said. “Encourage those in positions of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.”
Samaritan’s Purse has 350 staff members in Liberia, many of them working to battle the growing outbreak there, the group said. In a statement Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham thanked the staff at Emory University and said that Brantly demonstrated a “courageous spirit” in the face of the virus.
Writebol was working at a hospital in Liberia with her husband through a different global ministry group, SIM. While in the hospital, she reunited with her husband, David, earlier this week after he completed a 21-day observation period. “It has been three weeks since Nancy and I learned of her infection with the Ebola virus,” he said in a statement. “In the ensuing days, we learned much more about the disease than we already knew.”
Nancy Writebol did not appear at the press conference; but in a statement, David Writebol said that his wife hoped for privacy to recover her strength.
“Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition,” he said. “Thus, we decided it would be best to leave the hospital privately to be able to give her the rest and recuperation she needs at this time.”
The family released a photo of Writebol taken on Wednesday, following her release from the hospital.
“During the course of her fight, Nancy recalled the dark hours of fear and loneliness, but also a sense of the deep abiding peace and presence of God, giving her comfort,” David Writebol added. “She was greatly encouraged knowing that there were so many people around the world lifting prayers to God for her return to health. Her departure from the hospital, free of the disease, is powerful testimony to God’s sustaining grace in time of need.”
The successful recovery of these two patients from the virus is in stark contrast to the ongoing struggle to deal with the outbreak in West Africa, where health systems lack even basic treatment tools that could save lives.
According to the World Health Organization, 1,350 people have died in the worst outbreak in history. In this outbreak, only 47 percent of those infected survive — a better-than-expected outcome.
Ribner said the team at the hospital learned much more about treating the disease and will be sending some specific guidelines to health-care providers in Africa to help them treat other patients.
Specifically, for patients who experience severe diarrhea and lose enormous amounts of fluids, it is critical to replace potassium, calcium and other electrolytes, he said, even if health-care providers in Africa are not able to measure those fluid losses. “One guidance we are giving back to our colleagues is that they need to pay attention to replacing these electrolytes,” Ribner said.
The use of experimental treatments, including ZMapp, has been endorsed as ethical by WHO. But Ribner said he can’t say for sure whether it made a difference for either Writebol or Brantly.
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“Honestly, I don’t know,” Ribner said when asked what the impact of the treatment might have been. “They are the first individuals to receive this agent. We do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference, or if it delayed their recovery.”
“The critical difference in caring for the two patients in an American hospital was the infrastructure available for their care,” he added.
Ribner was asked repeatedly about levels of virus remaining in the patients, particularly Brantly. Although there is limited evidence to suggest that the virus may remain in semen for up to several months, he said, “we did not think that was a concern” because “this is not a mode of transmission to other individuals.”
Brantly and Writebol are now considered immune to the Zaire strain of the virus, which is present in this outbreak. At the press conference, Brantly hugged his wife and team of doctors and nurses who aided in his recovery, a sign that they are confident that he is fully recovered and not contagious.