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Both U.S. Ebola patients are released from Atlanta hospital

NEW YORK - Both U.S. aid workers who were infected with Ebola in Liberia have been released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after having fought off the deadly virus.

Kent Brantly, a doctor, was discharged Thursday. Nancy Writebol, an aid worker, was released Tuesday, the hospital said in a statement. They had been evacuated to the United States for treatment and are expect to make a full recovery.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at a news conference in Atlanta. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, to be reunited with my family.”

As he left the press conference to rejoin his family, he hugged more than a dozen hospital workers.

Brantly and Writebol had been receiving medical care at the Atlanta hospital since early August, after being flown in on a medical isolation jet from Liberia. Hopes had been raised for their survival after they were given an experimental treatment developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., a small biotechnology company based in San Diego.

“Limited knowledge of the Ebola virus, especially in our country, has created a lot of fear,” said Bruce Ribner, the Emory University physician who led the care of Writebol both patients. “However, we cannot let our fears dictate our actions. We must all care. As grateful as we are today, our work is far from over.”

Ribner said he was confident both in the hospital’s call to discharge the two patients and to treat them in the first place. “It was the right decision,” he said.

It’s not known whether the treatment aided their recoveries, or whether Brantly’s and Writebol’s own immune systems fought off the virus. Brantly had also received a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old survivor, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian charity organization that ran the Ebola clinic where Brantly worked as medical director.

“Please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola,” Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement. “Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.”

The World Health Organization has declared Ebola an international public health emergency. As of Aug. 18, the virus has killed 1,350 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone since the outbreak started in December, according to the Geneva-based agency. That makes it the worst Ebola epidemic on record. It’s the first time the disease has appeared in West Africa.

The international response to the Ebola outbreak, criticized as being too slow, has since been stepped up. Quarantine measures in the area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet have inflicted “extreme hardship” on more than a million people but are essential to contain the spread of the virus, Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, wrote yesterday in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“No one is talking about an early end to the outbreak,” Chan wrote. “The international community will need to gear up for many more months of massive, coordinated, and targeted assistance.”

The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. There is no approved cure. Standard treatment is to keep patients hydrated, replace lost blood and use antibiotics to fight off opportunistic infections. The goal is for the body’s immune system to eventually beat the disease.

Ebola has historically killed as many as 90 percent of those who contract it. The current outbreak has claimed the lives of about 55 percent of its victims.

–Kitamura reported from London. Michael Buteau contributed from Atlanta.

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