ATLANTA — After nearly three weeks of treatment, the two American aid workers who were infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Africa have been discharged from an Atlanta hospital, officials said Thursday.
Their release poses no public health risk, Dr. Bruce Ribner of Emory University Hospital stressed. Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 59, show no evidence of Ebola, and generally patients do not relapse and are not contagious once they've recovered, said Ribner, director of the hospital's infectious disease unit.
At a news conference, Brantly, who walked in holding hands with his wife, said, "Today is a miraculous day."
"I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family," said Brantly, who was released Thursday. Nancy Writebol, 59, was released Tuesday, and her husband said in statement emailed by aid group SIM that that she was free of the virus but in a weakened condition and was recuperating at an undisclosed location.
Both were infected while working at a missionary clinic outside Liberia's capital. Brantly said he and his family first got word of the outbreak in March and "began preparing for the worst." He said the hospital where he was working got its first Ebola patient in June, and then the number of patients increased steadily.
Health workers took precautions, Brantly said, but on July 23, "I woke up feeling under the weather, and then my life took an unexpected turn as I was diagnosed with Ebola virus disease." He had taken his wife and children to the airport three days earlier. Meanwhile, he said, he got sicker and weaker by the day. Brantly was flown out of Liberia on Aug. 2, and Writebol followed Aug. 5.
At the news conference, Brantly choked up several times while thanking his aid group, North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse, and the Emory medical team. He and his wife hugged the medical staff and joked with them. Several blinked back tears, then cheered and applauded as the couple made their way from the room. Brantly said he and his family would be going away as he continues to recover.
In his statement, David Writebol said his wife "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."
Brantly and Nancy Writebol received an experimental treatment called Zmapp, but it's not known whether the drug helped or whether they improved on their own, as has happened to others who have survived the disease. The treatment is so novel that it hasn't been tested in people.
"Frankly, we do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference or whether it theoretically delayed their recovery," Ribner said of Zmapp.
The limited supply of the treatment also was tried in a Spanish missionary priest, who died, and three Liberian health care workers, who are said to be improving.
Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick people experiencing symptoms. In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized that Brantly and Writebol no longer have the virus in their blood and therefore pose no health risk.
The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,300 people across West Africa. The death toll is rising most quickly in Liberia, the World Health Organization said. At least 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa — more than the caseloads of all the previous two-dozen Ebola outbreaks combined.