Hugging the health workers who cared for him, a doctor who recovered from Ebola said Tuesday he was a living example of effective treatment and urged support for those combating the virus at its West African epicenter.
"Today, I am healthy," a smiling Dr. Craig Spencer said as he was released after nearly three weeks in Bellevue Hospital, where he had been the last Ebola patient under treatment nationwide, at least for now.
"Please join me in turning our attention back to West Africa," where the virus has killed thousands of people this year, he added after thanking Bellevue staffers who treated him and getting a hug from the mayor.
Spencer, 33, was diagnosed Oct. 23, days after returning from treating Ebola patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. His was the first Ebola case in the nation's largest city, spurring an effort to contain anxieties along with the virus.
Spencer's fiancee remains under quarantine at their East Harlem apartment. New York officials continue to monitor about 100 Bellevue workers and nearly 200 other people, mainly recent travelers from West Africa.
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised New Yorkers for not panicking, the city's public health system for its preparedness and effectiveness, and Spencer for showing "us what it means to help your fellow human."
The emergency room physician, who is expected to return to work soon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, had done medical work overseas several times before he spent more than five weeks caring for Ebola patients, alongside Guinean colleagues he called "the heroes that we are not talking about."
"I cried as I held children who were not strong enough to survive the virus. But I also experienced immense joy when patients I treated were cured," Spencer recalled. After his own diagnosis, some of those patients called from Guinea to wish him well, he said.
Spencer's treatment included a transfusion of blood plasma from another Ebola survivor, health officials said.
Officials have stressed that Ebola is not airborne and can be spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Still, news of Spencer's infection unnerved some New Yorkers, particularly after they learned that he rode the subway, dined out and went bowling in the days before he developed a fever and tested positive.
But "Welcome Home" balloons were tied outside to greet the doctor when he got home Tuesday, and neighborhood residents such as Timothy Brewer were sanguine about New York's experience with Ebola: "The city has a handle on it," he said.
After Spencer's diagnosis, 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. That touched off a debate over how far government should go in keeping tabs on health care workers who treat Ebola.
Spencer said he was "a living example" of the success of self-monitoring procedures, quick detection and isolation, and he expressed concern about health and aid workers being stigmatized on returning home.
"Volunteers need to be supported to help fight this outbreak at its source," he said.
Only a few people have been treated for Ebola in the United States. One, Liberian visitor Thomas Eric Duncan, died; the rest have recovered.
Associated Press writer Bernard Vaughan contributed to this report.
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