The largest research study to date of survivors from the largest recorded Ebola outbreak shows that patients reported complications such as vision, hearing and joint pain problems months after being discharged from a treatment facility. The findings suggest that the Ebola virus may persist in certain bodily fluids after resolution of the acute disease.
Dr. Adrienne Chan, Dignitas International’s medical advisor, was seconded for the World Health Organization’s Ebola response in Sierra Leone and is one of the study co-authors. The study, published last week in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on clinical and laboratory records from patients at the EVD Survivor Clinic in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, one of the West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak that began in December 2013. The clinic provided care for 603 of the 661 survivors of Ebola living in the Port Loko district, approximately 45km east of the nation’s capital.
Among 277 survivors studied in March and April of this year, complications were found to be common. The researchers determined that:
• 76% of survivors reported joint pain
• 60% reported new vision problems
• 18% experienced eye inflammation (some potentially sight-threatening)
• 24% had hearing problems
“The findings underline the need for follow-up care in West Africa so that complications are properly diagnosed and treated,” says Dr. Sharmistha Mishra, an infectious diseases physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a senior author on the study.
During the early part of the Ebola outbreak, there was no systematic clinical care for survivors in Sierra Leone because of the overwhelming need to provide acute care for the disease.
“A lot of resources went into the emergency response but we also need to invest in strengthening health systems to manage the disease’s lingering effects, and so that we can better respond to future Ebola outbreaks,” says Dr. Chan.
The Ebola survivor study was partially funded by a CIHR Innovative Ebola Research Grant, held by Dr. Chan and her colleagues. Dr. John Mattia and Dr. Matthew Vandy are the only two ophthalmologists in Sierra Leone and are the lead authors on the study, which involved multiple partner organizations.
Read the full Lancet Infectious Diseases paper here.
Read the CBC news story here.