A Scottish nurse who came down with Ebola nine months ago, only to return to the hospital with meningitis caused by the virus, has been given an all-clear again, a London hospital said.
The Royal Free Hospital announced in a press release Thursday that Pauline Cafferkey had been discharged the day before. The nurse is not totally out of the woods medically, though, as she’s being transferred closer to home to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
Still, it’s very good news for the only person diagnosed in Britain in the latest Ebola outbreak, a fact that made her a symbol of that deadly virus and health workers’ heroic role in fighting it.
British Health Minister Jeremy Hunt went so far as to say Cafferkey had “completely recovered from Ebola,” while Cafferkey thanked the health workers who helped make it possible.
“For a second time staff across many departments of the hospital have worked incredibly hard to help me recover and I will always be grateful to them and the (National Health Service),” Cafferkey said in a statement.
“I am looking forward to returning to Scotland and to seeing my family and friends again.”
Team went to Sierra Leone to battle Ebola
Her return is the latest in a long, winding road for the public health nurse, one that began last year when she left her post in Scotland’s South Lanarkshire area to join a 30-person team deployed by the UK government to work in Sierra Leone with Save the Children.
Back then, the Ebola virus was in full swing. Many health workers jumped into the melee, trying to save lives. (As of this week, the World Health Organization reports more than 28,600 confirmed cases and 11,000 deaths from the disease.)
Cafferkey didn’t learn that her own life was at risk until she fell ill shortly after touching back down in the UK. She was then diagnosed with Ebola and was moved for intensive treatment to the Royal Free Hospital, which has an isolation unit tended by specially trained medical staff and a tent with controlled ventilation set up over the patient’s bed.
At one point during that initial stay, the London hospital said Cafferkey’s condition had “gradually deteriorated over … two days” and that she was then in critical condition.
She managed to rebound and weeks later was allowed to go home.
Experimental anti-viral treatment
As she got better, Cafferkey was able to do more and more — including becoming a celebrity of sorts.
On September 28, for instance, she was honored for her Ebola-fighting efforts at the Pride of Britain awards, a star-studded event attended this year by the likes of soccer star David Beckham and Rupert Grint of “Harry Potter” fame.
The next day, Cafferkey joined other honorees at Prime Minister David Cameron’s residence.
Less than a week later, she didn’t feel well and went to a doctor in Glasgow, said a spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, who was not named per policy. Cafferkey was admitted the next day, October 6, to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in the Scottish city.
UK health officials said then that Cafferkey was suffering from “an unusual late complication” of her Ebola infection. She was later sent back to the Royal Free Hospital, where her condition worsened.
Dr. Michael Jacobs, a specialist on infectious diseases at that London hospital, later clarified that Cafferkey hadn’t suffered a relapse of Ebola.
“This is the original Ebola virus that she had many months ago which has been inside the brain, replicating at a very low level probably, and which has now re-emerged to cause this clinical illness of meningitis,” Jacobs said last month. He added that doctors treated the nurse with an experimental anti-viral treatment.
“This infection is completely different. We can’t say that the risk of infection is zero and this is why we are still taking precautions,”Jacobs said.
CNN’s Susannah Cullinane, Margot Haddad and Tim Hume contributed to this report.