The doctor who contracted Ebola in West Africa before returning to New York City has been declared free of the virus, hospital officials announced Monday. This news means that 41 days after the first Ebola diagnosis in the United States, there are no known cases of the virus in the country.
Craig Spencer, 33, who had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea, was diagnosed with Ebola on Oct. 23. Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, where Spencer was being treated, confirmed in a statement Monday that he “has been declared free of the virus.” Spencer will be discharged on Tuesday, according to the hospital. [UPDATE: He was released Tuesday morning, an occasion marked with lots of hugs.]
Spencer’s diagnosis created concerns in New York, as the news of his illness was followed by the revelation that he visited a popular restaurant and coffee shop, rode multiple subway lines and went to a bowling alley and bar in Brooklyn. As city officials preached caution and calm, “disease detectives” fanned out to visit the places Spencer had gone and visit the people with whom he had interacted.
After returning to New York, Spencer had been self-monitoring and taking his temperature. He reported a fever of 100.3 degrees on Oct. 23, two days after he began feeling sluggish, and was taken to the hospital and isolated. He was the fourth person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States and the only one of this group to contract the disease after treating patients overseas. (Other people responding to the epidemic in West Africa have been diagnosed and brought back to the country for treatment.)
His diagnosis also sparked a panic among authorities, as the governors of New York and New Jersey hurriedly announced that they would quarantine any medical workers returning from West Africa, a highly-criticized move that went against the advice of public-health officials. This drama spilled up the East Coast, as a nurse who had treated patients in West Africa (and had no symptoms of Ebola) was quarantined in New Jersey and had a prolonged confrontation with authorities in Maine over her treatment.
The first person diagnosed in this country, Thomas Duncan, was a Liberian man who contracted it before flying to Texas in September; two nurses who treated Duncan were infected during his hospitalization. Duncan died eight days after he was diagnosed, becoming the only person to die from Ebola in the United States, while the Texas nurses who contracted Ebola were both treated and declared safe. The news that Spencer was cleared came three days after the last person being monitored for Ebola in Texas was also cleared, ending the Ebola saga there.
More than 350 people were being actively monitored by the New York City health department for Ebola as of last week, the department said in a statement. Most of these people had traveled to New York City from Liberia, Guinea or the Sierra Leone, but that number also included Bellevue staff members treating Spencer and lab workers who took his blood.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday that people should be reassured by the fact that tried-and-true approaches, such as contact-tracing and active monitoring, have helped to prevent broader transmission of the disease in the United States.
“In fact, it has worked,” he said, noting that contacts of patients in Dallas have all been cleared and that people who interacted with Spencer so far appear healthy.
“That doesn’t mean we are not going to see another case; it’s possible we will,” he said. “[But] I think we are pretty well prepared.”
Amy Ellis Nutt and Brady Dennis contributed to this report.
[This post has been updated. Last update: 6:55 p.m.]