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TUESDAY, Nov. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Dr. Craig Spencer, the last patient hospitalized for Ebola in the United States, left Bellevue Hospital in New York City Tuesday and is now free of the virus, his doctors say.
"Today I am healthy and no longer infectious," Spencer said at a morning news conference. "My early detection, reporting and now recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of protocols that are in place for health staff returning from West Africa."
Spencer, 33, contracted the often-fatal illness while caring for Ebola patients in Guinea, one of three West African countries hit hard by the devastating outbreak. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital by ambulance on Oct. 23 with a fever of 100.3 degrees and had been cared for in isolation since then. Numerous people who had contact with Spencer before he was hospitalized have been monitored for signs of Ebola infection, but no new cases have arisen.
Spencer is the last of nine Ebola patients to be treated in the United States. Only one patient died -- Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, who succumbed at a hospital in Dallas on Oct. 8. Duncan became infected with the virus in his home country. All other patients have recovered from Ebola, something experts attribute to the high level of care patients are receiving in the United States.
Spencer had received every Ebola treatment available during his stay at Bellevue, including blood plasma from a prior -- but now recovered -- U.S. patient, medical missionary Nancy Writebol, as well as an experimental medicine.
Spencer on Tuesday thanked the staffers at Bellevue for their "tremendous care and support," and said that protocols to deal with Ebola, already in place at the hospital before he arrived, were key to his survival.
"I am a living example of how those protocols work and how early detection is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others," he said.
News of Spencer's illness sent jitters through the nation's largest city, as officials retraced his steps in the days prior to his admission to Bellevue. He said that over the few days prior to the onset of symptoms he had eaten at a restaurant, gone bowling, and taken the subway and a taxi. None of those activities seems to have resulted in Spencer transmitting the virus, however.
The ongoing West Africa Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has so far involved more than 13,000 cases, with almost 5,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At Tuesday's news conference, Spencer urged Americans to switch their focus to West Africa, the epicenter of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. He said that volunteer health staffers working there are crucial to the fight against the disease.
"They are the true heroes that we are not talking about," he said. "Please join me in turning our attention back to West Africa and ensuring that medical volunteers and other aid workers do not face stigma and threats upon their return home. Volunteers need to be supported to help fight this outbreak at its source."
Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Spencer "participated actively in his own care."
"I want to salute him," she added. "His work in West Africa was not only for the people of Guinea, it was for all of us -- we will not vanquish this epidemic until it is vanquished in West Africa."
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SOURCES: Nov. 11, 2014, news conference, Bellevue Hospital, New York City with Craig Spencer, M.D.; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention