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Free From Ebola, Survivors Complain of New Syndrome

Post-survival symptoms include uveitis, joint pain, and hair loss

According to a report from Reuters, some survivors of the Ebola virus in West Africa are complaining of serious side effects months after their recovery –– a condition doctors are calling “post-Ebola syndrome” (PES).

Ebola, which has killed almost 9,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, initially causes fever and vomiting, and then attacks the immune system and vital organs, often causing internal and external bleeding.

Approximately 60% of Ebola patients have died in the current outbreak, typically from shock or organ failure. Some of those who have survived the disease report a mixture of symptoms after their recovery, including vision problems, joint pain, hair and memory loss, and anxiety attacks. Doctors say it is not yet clear how long the symptoms last. There is also no scientific literature or medical consensus on any new syndrome among West African survivors or on how many people might be affected.

Dr. Dan Kelly, a physician specializing in infectious diseases, says the situation can be complicated by poor medical records, making it hard to separate new symptoms from pre-existing conditions. Ebola, like many severe infections, may weaken survivors and make other illnesses more likely.

Kelly said some Ebola after-effects appear linked to the infection itself, with some patients developing symptoms similar to those of autoimmune disorders. Other patients develop symptoms similar to uveitis, an eye inflammation causing blindness, he said.

“With post-Ebola syndrome, there is an autoimmune response. It’s revved up, and we don’t really know why,” Kelley told Reuters by telephone from Sierra Leone ,where he is helping with the Ebola response.

One of the ongoing concerns about Ebola’s after-effects relates to sexual health. Some female Ebola survivors say they have stopped menstruating. The virus can also remain in semen for months.

The links between Ebola and mental health disorders is also little understood.

Dr. Ben Neumann, a virologist at Reading University in the U.K., who studies Ebola and other viruses and their effects, notes that Lassa virus, which comes from West Africa and causes a disease similar to that of Ebola virus infection, has also been reported as having longer-term health effects.

“[Lassa] survivors often report signs of nerve damage, such as loss of hearing,” he told Reuters, adding that it would be “surprising that something as damaging as Ebola did not have lasting effects.”

The current lack of knowledge about post-Ebola health effects is probably “due to Ebola being a rare virus that left few survivors before this outbreak,” he said.

Some after-effects of Ebola have been reported in previous outbreaks since the disease was first detected in 1976, but past epidemics were smaller and often more deadly, meaning there were fewer survivors to generate sufficient interest to warrant research.

Source: Reuters; February 4, 2015.


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