NY doctor with Ebola improves, quarantined nurse reunited with her dog
Ebola survivor Nina Pham is reunited with her dog Bentley at the Dallas Animal Services Center in Dallas, November 1, 2014. REUTERS/Lisa Maria Garza

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York doctor with Ebola, who triggered a national debate over mandatory quarantines for health workers returning from West Africa, was upgraded to stable condition on Saturday after nine days of treatment.

Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, the only person in the United States currently being treated for Ebola, will remain in isolation, New York City's Bellevue Hospital said in a statement. He has improved to "stable" from "serious but stable."

Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola several days after returning to New York from Guinea where he had worked with patients infected with the disease, which is known to have killed almost 5,000 people in West Africa.

His Oct. 23 diagnosis, following a trip on the New York subway to eat out and go bowling with friends, spread alarm about the possible spread of the virus in the United States, leading states and federal health officials to issue a host of differing protocols for those considered at risk of developing the infection.

On a brighter note, Texas nurse Nina Pham, 26, who recovered from Ebola last week after treating a Liberian patient in a Dallas hospital, was reunited on Saturday with her dog, which had been quarantined for three weeks as a precaution.

The fate of her King Charles Spaniel, called Bentley, became a focus of public interest after officials in Madrid put down the dog of a Spanish nurse who had contracted Ebola while caring for a patient.

"After I was diagnosed with Ebola, I didn't know what would happen to Bentley and if he would have the virus," Pham told reporters at a Dallas animal shelter. "I was frightened that I might not know what happened to my best friend

In the biggest tussle so far, a Maine judge on Friday rejected a state request to quarantine nurse Kaci Hickox, who recently returned home from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Hickox, who has tested negative for Ebola, fought a heated public battle over what she considered draconian measures to isolate her for 21 days in a case that highlighted the dilemma over how to balance public health needs and personal liberty.

Medical professionals say Ebola is difficult to catch and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and is not transmitted by asymptomatic people.

Canada and Australia have barred entry for citizens from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the disease is widespread, and some U.S. politicians have called for a similar ban by the United States.

In Oregon, test results were awaited for a woman with a fever who was hospitalized in an isolation unit on Friday after returning from West Africa, Oregon health officials said. She had not come into known contact with Ebola patients while in Africa, the officials added.

U.S. public health experts, the United Nations, federal officials and President Barack Obama have expressed concern that state quarantines for returning doctors and nurses could discourage potential medical volunteers from fighting the outbreak at its source in West Africa.

On Friday the Pentagon said that civilian U.S. defense employees returning from Ebola relief work in West Africa must undergo monitoring to ensure they are free of disease but can choose between following civil health guidelines or the stricter military regimen.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Frank McGurty; Writing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Steve Orlofsky)