Ebola-free nurse Amber Vinson discharged from Atlanta hospital

DALLAS – A wide-eyed and smiling Amber Vinson walked out of Emory University Hospital in Atlanta Tuesday afternoon, becoming the seventh Ebola patient to beat the deadly disease after treatment in the United States.

“I'm so grateful to be well,” Vinson said during a news conference. “I sincerely believe that with God, all things are possible.”

Some of Vinson's colleagues watched her on live TV in a break room at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. (Courtesy photo)
Some of Vinson's colleagues watched her on live TV in a break room at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. (Courtesy photo)

Vinson, 29, was one of two Texas nurses to contract Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan earlier this month in Dallas.

She was admitted to Emory's serious communicable disease unit on Oct. 15 and was declared free of the deadly virus last week.

“After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, we have determined that Ms. Vinson has recovered,” said Dr. Bruce Ribner, the unit's medical director. “She can return to her family, her community, and to her life without any concerns about transmitting this virus to any other individuals.”

Vinson, wearing a gray suit and pink blouse, was accompanied at the news conference by her grandparents and an aunt and uncle. At the podium, Vinson was flanked by the team of Emory health care workers who helped in her recovery.

“As a nurse and now someone who has experienced what it's like to be cared for through a life-threatening illness, I'm so appreciative for your exceptional skill, warmth and care,” she said.

The Ohio native also thanked Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the first two patients to be treated for Ebola in the U.S., for their donation of blood transfusions.

“While this is a day for celebration and gratitude, I ask that we not lose focus of the thousands of families that continue to labor under the burden of this disease in West Africa,” Vinson said.

Vinson's discharge leaves Dr. Craig Spencer as the only confirmed Ebola patient currently being treated in the U.S. Spencer, 33, fell ill last week in New York City after returning from working for the Doctors Without Borders charity in Guinea.

Vinson was diagnosed with the virus on Oct. 14. A day later, the Dallas resident was flown by air ambulance to Atlanta for treatment at Emory, which has a specialized unit trained in treating Ebola.

Vinson's diagnosis prompted Ebola worries from Dallas to Cleveland, when it was revealed that she had flown commercially in the days before being hospitalized. Her family fended off critics by pointing out that health officials had approved her travel plans.

Vinson and her colleague Nina Pham were among 50 to 70 health care workers involved in the treatment of Liberian citizen Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas from Sept. 28 to Oct. 8.

Map showing total Ebola cases and deaths by country (AFP Photo/P. Pizarro/A. Bommenel, abm/ahu/jfs)
Map showing total Ebola cases and deaths by country (AFP Photo/P. Pizarro/A. Bommenel, abm/ahu/jfs)

Duncan arrived in Texas from Ebola-ravaged Liberia on Sept. 20. The disease, which kills more than half the people it infects, has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people in West Africa in 2014, the World Health Organization estimates. There is no known vaccine.

Duncan, 42, was the first person to ever be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Investigators have not determined how Pham and Vinson specifically contracted the disease from Duncan, who died on his 10th day of intensive care at the hospital. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids and secretions, including blood, mucus, feces, and vomit of an ill or deceased person.

Pham, 26, fell ill two days after Duncan's death. After two weeks of treatment, she was given a clean bill of health and released from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland last Friday.

While Vinson's doctor said he can't be sure, he hypothesized that the Dallas nurses' younger ages and the protective equipment they were wearing might have contributed to their speedy recoveries.

“It is quite likely that the amount of virus that she was exposed to was substantially less than what we see in patients who get exposed in less developed countries,” Dr. Ribner said. “The higher the viral load that you get infected with, the more severe your disease is likely to be.”

According to Dallas officials, fewer than 100 people — most of them hospital staffers who were involved in caring for Duncan, Pham or Vinson — continue to be monitored for Ebola symptoms.

The incubation period — the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms — is 2 to 21 days, according to the WHO. People are not infectious until they develop symptoms.

Provided that no new cases are confirmed, monitoring in the Dallas area will end on Nov. 7.

We are so pleased that Amber Vinson has been declared free of Ebola,” Dr. David Lakey, Texas health commissioner, said in a written statement. Through excellent health care and her own courage, she beat the disease. We wish her the best as she transitions back to a normal life, and we welcome her back home to Texas.”

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).