Two Americans Have Beaten Ebola, but We Don’t Know How

The two infected aid workers have been released from the hospital.

A microscopic view of of the Ebola virus.
National Journal
Sam Baker
Aug. 21, 2014, 7:42 a.m.

Two Amer­ic­an aid work­ers who con­trac­ted Ebola in West Africa have been re­leased from the hos­pit­al, and of­fi­cials say they can re­turn to their daily lives without fear of spread­ing the vir­us.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Write­bol have both been re­leased from Emory Uni­versity Hos­pit­al, where they had been in isol­a­tion since the be­gin­ning of Au­gust. Brantly was re­leased Thursday, and of­fi­cials said they dis­charged Write­bol earli­er in the week.

Brantly and Write­bol were the first two Ebola vic­tims to enter the U.S., and some pun­dits feared that al­low­ing them back in­to the coun­try would put Amer­ic­ans at risk for an out­break. But hos­pit­al of­fi­cials said Brantly and Write­bol tested neg­at­ive for Ebola and pose no risk to oth­ers.

“The med­ic­al staff here at Emory is con­fid­ent that the dis­charge … poses no pub­lic health threat,” said Bruce Rib­n­er, the dir­ect­or of the in­fec­tious dis­eases unit at Emory. “It was the right de­cision to bring these pa­tients back to Emory for their treat­ment.”

The Ebola out­break that sickened Brantly and Write­bol is the worst on re­cord. More than 1,300 people have died so far in West Africa””between 50 and 60 per­cent of all cases. Past out­breaks have killed as many as 90 per­cent of in­fec­ted pa­tients.

There is no cure for Ebola, and health of­fi­cials aren’t en­tirely sure what treat­ment or com­bin­a­tion of treat­ments worked for the Amer­ic­an pa­tients. They re­ceived an ex­per­i­ment­al drug known as ZMapp, but be­cause the drug has not been tested in hu­mans, there are no guar­an­tees it was re­spons­ible for their re­cov­ery.

ZMapp might have made the dif­fer­ence; or sup­port­ing treat­ments, in­clud­ing massive in­fu­sions of flu­ids, might have done the job on their own.

“They are the very first in­di­vidu­als to ever re­ceive this agent. There is no pri­or ex­per­i­ence with it. And frankly, we do not know wheth­er it helped them, wheth­er it made no dif­fer­ence or, the­or­et­ic­ally, if it delayed their re­cov­ery,” Rib­n­er said at a news con­fer­ence.

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