Amber Vinson, the second of two nurses diagnosed with Ebola this month, is now free of the disease and was discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon, telling reporters she was "so grateful" for the care she received after contracting the lethal virus.
The virus was undetectable in Vinson's body as of Oct. 21, her family announced earlier on Tuesday, and she was approved to leave isolation.
“While this is a day for celebration and gratitude I ask that we not lose focus on the thousands of families who continue to labor under the burden of this disease in West Africa," said Vinson, smiling and sharing hugs with the doctors who cared for her.
Vinson, 29, was diagnosed after taking care of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed on U.S. soil, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who also worked to treat Duncan, contracted the disease as well but was declared Ebola-free after treatment and was released last week from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of Emory's serious communicable disease unit, told reporters Pham and Vinson may have recovered so quickly because they were younger than most Ebola patients, and because they were wearing personal protective equipment when they were treating Duncan, meaning they were exposed to a lesser "viral load" than most patients.
“We deeply admire Ms. Vinson’s courage and dedication in caring for patients with serious communicable diseases," Ribner said during a press conference at Emory. "Nurses are on the front lines 24 hours a day in treating our patients … and it is their skill, their knowledge and their passion for healing that makes one of the critical differences in caring for our patients.”
Vinson's release also drew praise from staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
"Amber and her fellow caregiver, Nina Pham, are an inspiration for healthcare workers nationwide, and we at Texas Health Dallas could not be more proud of them," the hospital said in a statement.
After treating Duncan, but before being diagnosed, Vinson traveled to Ohio on Oct. 10 and back to Dallas by plane on Oct. 13 despite having a temperature of 99.5, raising fear that she may have spread the virus to fellow travelers.
No Ebola cases related to Vinson’s travel have been reported. While American physicians have treated only a small number of Ebola cases, Ribner said the chance to study the virus in a developed nation has changed some of the "general dogma" and assumptions doctors made when treating the virus at the onset of the West Africa outbreak.
For example, Ribner said, doctors previously believed if a patient became so ill that they required dialysis, their chance of survival was almost nil.
“I think we have changed the algorithm for how aggressive we are willing to be in caring for patients with Ebola virus disease," he said.
Her family said she reported her temperature to health officials three times before the flight and was cleared to fly each time. The morning after her return, she had a fever of 100.3 and entered isolation at the hospital. She was diagnosed with Ebola the following day and transferred to Emory University Hospital.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially said Vinson had been told to avoid public transportation, including commercial airlines, while monitoring herself for symptoms, but subsequently acknowledged approving Vinson's return flight.