NEW YORK (AP) — An emergency room doctor who was the first Ebola patient in the nation's biggest city has recovered and is scheduled to be released from the hospital on Tuesday, health officials said.
Dr. Craig Spencer, who was the only Ebola patient being treated in the United States, has been declared free of the virus, the city Department of Health said Monday in a statement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Spencer has suffered a lot the last few weeks but has "come back really strong." He called Spencer "a real hero."
"I'm sure he's a little weakened from the experience," de Blasio said, but he's "very, very healthy."
Spencer tested positive for the virus on Oct. 23, just days after returning from treating patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. He has been treated in a specially designed isolation unit at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola treatment center. His condition was upgraded from serious to stable last week, and he was feeling well enough to request an exercise bike and a banjo.
His fiancee and two friends initially were quarantined but were released and are being monitored along with hundreds of others.
Spencer, who's 33, is expected to issue a statement but not take questions when he's released from the hospital.
Health officials have stressed that Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Still, news of Spencer's infection set many New Yorkers on edge, particularly after details emerged that he rode the subway, dined in a meatball restaurant and visited a bowling alley in the days before he developed a fever and tested positive.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responded by announcing a mandatory 21-day quarantine for travelers who have come in close contact with Ebola patients.
De Blasio and Cuomo had urged residents not to be alarmed by Spencer's Ebola diagnosis, even as they described him riding the subway and taking a cab. De Blasio has said all city officials followed "clear and strong" protocols in their handling and treatment of him and Spencer did right by calling authorities as soon as he got a fever.
Spencer may have been aware of New Yorkers' fears about his case but didn't dwell on it, and he remained upbeat about recovering even in the worst of his illness, said de Blasio, who spoke to him during his hospitalization.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed thousands of people, but only a handful of people has been diagnosed or treated in the United States.
Those treated in the U.S. also include American health and aid workers and a journalist who were in West Africa, a Liberian man diagnosed with the virus during a visit to Texas and two nurses who contracted it from him. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, died; the rest have recovered.
Colleagues in Guinea have said Spencer conscientiously followed safety procedures in place at the Doctors Without Borders clinic in Gueckedou.
Spencer, an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, has traveled around the world to care for the needy. In the past three years, he'd been to Rwanda to work on an emergency care teaching curriculum, volunteered at a health clinic in Burundi, helped investigate an infectious parasitic disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo and traveled to 32 villages in Indonesia to do a public health survey.
Colleagues have said Spencer has the ability to put patients at ease even when he doesn't know their language, winning them over through hugs and smiles.