Two U.S. Ebola Patients Leave Hospital as Virus Wiped Out

Aug 22, 2014 12:01 am ET

(For more news on Ebola, see EXT7<GO>.)

Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Two U.S. health workers infected with Ebola in Liberia were released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after treatment there helped wipe out the deadly virus from their blood.

Kent Brantly, a doctor, was discharged yesterday. Nancy Writebol, an aid worker, was released Aug. 19, the hospital said in a statement. They had been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment and are expected to make a full recovery.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at a news conference in Atlanta. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, to be reunited with my family.”

As he left the press conference to rejoin his family, he hugged many of the five doctors, 21 nurses and other hospital workers who had helped care for him and Writebol while at Emory.

“If the hugging transmitted the feeling that we don’t think he’s contagious, that would be correct,” said Bruce Ribner, the physician who led the care of both patients. The decision to release the patients was based on U.S. guidelines that call for a patient to have no virus in their blood and improved symptoms for two to three days, he said.

Brantly and Writebol had been receiving medical care at the Atlanta hospital since early August, after each was flown in on a medical isolation jet from Liberia. Before the flight, each received an experimental drug developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., a closely held biotechnology company based in San Diego.

Supportive Care

It’s not known whether the Mapp treatment or a blood transfusion Brantly received from a 14-year-old survivor played any role their recovery, according to Ribner. The outcomes were improved by the supportive care they received at Emory, he said, including the replacement of fluids and electrolytes and monitoring their blood for clotting.

“Limited knowledge of the Ebola virus, especially in our country, has created a lot of fear,” Ribner said. “However, we cannot let our fears dictate our actions. We must all care. As grateful as we are today, our work is far from over.”

The patients will continue to receive follow-up care. Both are now believed to be immune to the strain of Ebola spreading in West Africa, though not the other four strains, Ribner said.

Brantly will be spending time with his family to “reconnect, decompress and continue to recover physically and emotionally” before sharing more about his experience with the media, he said. He didn’t say where he would be going next.

Lingering Effects

Writebol didn’t appear at the press conference and has been at an undisclosed location since her discharge, SIM, the missionary group she was working for in Liberia, said in a statement.

“Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition,” her husband, David Writebol, said in a statement. “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.”

Brantly said Writebol asked that he share with the public her gratitude.

“As she walked out of her isolation room, all she could say was, ‘To God be the glory,’” Brantly said.

Care Guidelines

Ribner said Emory is putting together guidelines on what they learned from caring for the two patients that could be shared with health-care workers in Africa.

“Because we have the infrastructure our colleagues in Liberia don’t have, we have always had a strong feeling the mortality rate of around 50 percent or so wouldn’t be our experience,” Ribner said.

The World Health Organization has declared Ebola an international public health emergency. As of Aug. 18, the virus had killed 1,350 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone since the outbreak started in December, according to the Geneva-based agency. That makes it the worst Ebola epidemic on record. It’s the first time the disease has appeared in West Africa.

The international response to the Ebola outbreak, criticized as being too slow, has since intensified. Quarantine measures in the area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet have inflicted “extreme hardship” on more than 1 million people but are essential to contain the spread of the virus, Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, wrote Aug. 20 in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.

‘Many’ Months

“No one is talking about an early end to the outbreak,” Chan wrote. “The international community will need to gear up for many more months of massive, coordinated, and targeted assistance.”

The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. The virus causes fever, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting and, as it progresses, bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose.

There is no approved cure. Standard treatment is to keep patients hydrated, replace lost blood and use antibiotics to fight off opportunistic infections. The goal is for the body’s immune system to eventually beat the disease.

Ebola has historically killed as many as 90 percent of those who contract it, with most patients dying from multiple organ failure. The current outbreak has claimed the lives of about 55 percent of its victims.