America all clear of Ebola — for now

Jason Sickles

DALLAS — For the first time in nearly 10 weeks, no Ebola patient is being treated for the deadly disease in the United States.

America’s all-clear came Tuesday morning when Dr. Craig Spencer was declared virus-free and released from a New York City hospital.

Spencer contracted the disease while treating Ebola patients in Guinea, but didn’t become ill until he returned home late last month. He had been in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center since he was diagnosed with the virus on Oct. 23.

“My recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols in place for health staff returning from West Africa at the time of my infection,” Spencer, a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, said in a written statement.

“I am a living example of how those protocols work, and of how early detection and isolation is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others,” he said.

Spencer, who is 33, is one of four people to receive their diagnosis in the United States. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian citizen visiting family in Dallas, became the first Ebola patient to ever be diagnosed with the virus in the United States on Sept. 30. Officials believe Duncan, 42, had the disease when he flew to Dallas on Sept. 20.

Nurses Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29, then contracted the virus while caring for Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

Duncan died after 10 days in intensive care, becoming the country’s first and only recorded death from the disease. Like Spencer, Pham and Vinson were declared virus-free and released from isolation after treatment.

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According to the World Health Organization, more than 13,200 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease have been reported in eight countries (Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain, Nigeria, Senegal and the U.S.) since the outbreak in West Africa was officially declared in late March. All but 27 cases have occurred in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, where nearly 5,000 people have died.

Since early August, four American medical workers and a journalist who contracted Ebola — and one doctor who had a suspected case — have been flown from West Africa to the U.S. for treatment. All were cared for at facilities with specialized treatment units and released.

While New Yorkers cheered Spencer’s discharged on Tuesday, public health officials in a number of states remain vigilant. A nurse residing in central Texas who cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone is considered to be at “some risk” of exposure and has agreed to stay home during the incubation period.

Dr. John Fankhauser is under quarantine near Charlotte after recently returning from Liberia. (Photo: Bethany Fankhauser)

In North Carolina, medical missionary Dr. John Fankhauser is cooperating with a 21-day quarantine ordered by Charlotte health officials. Fankhauser returned from Liberia last Saturday, according to SIM USA, an international Christian mission agency.

The doctor has not shown symptoms of the virus, but health officials classified Fankhauser as at “some risk” because he had been working in West Africa since Labor Day and was known to have had contact with at least one Ebola patient.

Fankhauser, a family physician from California, has been on the front lines fighting Ebola in Liberia since the beginning of the year. He personally treated his friends, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, when they became the first American missionaries to fall ill in late July. He took a brief break in August but returned to Liberia a short time later when a third American doctor was evacuated to the U.S. for Ebola treatment.

“John’s commitment to helping the people of Liberia is inspiring,” said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA. “When his SIM colleague Rick Sacra became ill with Ebola, John said, ‘Send me back in.’ He has worked tirelessly over the past two months providing essential medical and administrative services at our ELWA Hospital, including treatment of malaria patients and delivering babies  services which are scarcely available. Last week he reported that our hospital was one of the only hospitals open in the capital of 1.5 million people.”

Fankauser will complete his quarantine at the SIM mission’s secluded RV park near Charlotte.

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).