Some Ebola survivors develop vision and hearing problems as well as joint pain months after treatment, suggesting the virus lingers in some body fluids, research shows.
Most of the 82 Ebola survivors in a new study from the world’s largest Ebola outbreak had brain symptoms more than six months after the initial infection. The preliminary results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, April 15 to 21, 2016. The study is part of the larger Prevail III study, which follows patients with prior Ebola virus disease and their close contacts who serve as study controls.
While an end to the outbreak has been declared, these survivors are still struggling with long-term problems, said study author Lauren Bowen, MD, of the (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. More than 28,600 people were infected with Ebola in West Africa during the outbreak. Of that number, 11,300 died. In collaboration with the ongoing PREVAIL III natural history study of Ebola survivors, we wanted to find out more about possible continued long-term brain health problems for the more than 17,000 survivors of the infection.
Complications were common among 277 survivors examined in March and April 2015, according to study senior author Dr. Sharmistha Mishra, an infectious disease specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto who spent five months as a clinical consultant for the Ebola response in Sierra Leone.
For the study, a team of NINDS neurologists examined 82 Ebola survivors from Liberia with an average age of 35 years. At least six months after the start of their disease, most of the survivors had some neurologic abnormality. The most common ongoing problems were weakness, headache, memory loss, depressed mood and muscle pain. Two people were suicidal and one had hallucinations.
Common neurological findings on examination included abnormal eye movements, tremors and abnormal reflexes. Controls are in the process of being evaluated to determine which of these findings are Ebola-specific.
It is important for us to know how this virus may continue to affect the brain long term, said Bowen.
The study was supported by NINDS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, both components of the National Institutes of Health, and the Liberian Ministry of Health.
Ebola virus disease (EVD), also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) or simply Ebola, is a viral hemorrhagic fever of humans and other primates caused by ebolaviruses. Signs and symptoms typically start between two days and three weeks after contracting the virus with a fever, sore throat, muscular pain, and headaches. Then, vomiting,diarrhea and rash usually follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. At this time some people begin to bleed both internally and externally. The disease has a high risk of death, killing between 25 and 90 percent of those infected, with an average of about 50 percent. This is often due to low blood pressure from fluid loss, and typically follows six to sixteen days after symptoms appear.