Date
22 January 2017
British nurse Pauline Cafferkey was flown to The Royal Free specialist London hospital unit Friday, nearly nine months after she was discharged, owing to an 'unusual late complication'. Photo: AFP
British nurse Pauline Cafferkey was flown to The Royal Free specialist London hospital unit Friday, nearly nine months after she was discharged, owing to an 'unusual late complication'. Photo: AFP

Ebola persistence in survivors fuels concern about future risks

A growing awareness of how the Ebola virus can hide in parts of the body, such as eyes, breasts and testicles, long after leaving the bloodstream raises questions about whether the disease can ever be beaten.

Virologists said Friday’s case of a Scottish nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, who had recovered from Ebola but is now suffering complications, adds to signs that the virus is a long-term health risk and can lead to a “post-Ebola syndrome”.

“Over the past few years, there has been mounting evidence of mental and physical health problems in Ebola survivors that can last for years after the virus is cleared from the bloodstream,” Reuters quoted Ben Neuman, an Ebola expert and lecturer in virology at Britain’s University of Reading, as saying.

“The newly discovered twist on this post-Ebola syndrome is that in some cases the health problems — often including damage to the eyes and joints — are caused by live Ebola virus growing in fluids in some of the less accessible compartments of the body.”

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known in humans, infected 28,000 people and killed more than 11,300 of them in an unprecedented outbreak in West Africa that was declared in March 2014 and is only now coming under control.

Experts said in August that about half of Ebola survivors in West Africa were already reporting suffering from chronic problems, including serious joint pain and eye inflammation that can lead to blindness.

Julian Hiscox, a professor of infection and global health at Britain’s Liverpool University, was quoted as saying that Ebola’s persistence in survivors — who have no obvious symptoms of Ebola infection and so are often living and working normally and not kept in isolation as a symptomatic patient would be — means they are “a potential reservoir of the virus”.

“It’s why men who have had Ebola and recovered are advised to abstain or wear condoms,” he said.

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