Ebola Lives on After Recovery
As the recent relapse of Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey shows, the aftereffects of the Ebola virus can be complicated, unpredictable and lasting.
Cafferkey, who had volunteered in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak there, began showing signs of Ebola last year after she returned to Great Britain. In January, she was released after successful treatment and abatement of the diseases.
Then in mid-October, she was readmitted to the hospital in critical condition with complications from her diseases. Researchers now know that Ebola can live in areas of the body where the immune system can’t easily go, such as the eyes, central nervous system and, in men, the testicles. Numerous cases have been reported of sexually transmitted Ebola long after a male has recovered from the disease.
Last month, two prominent medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, reported cases of sexually transmitted Ebola virus months after symptoms of the disease had ceased.
The Cafferkey incident came soon after the World Health Organization declared no new cases of Ebola had occurred for a week in West African nations. More recently, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free.
Many viruses, like cytomegalovirus, adenoviruses and chicken pox, can hide out in the human body indefinitely. Therefore, a significant portion of the immune system works every day to keep them in check. Ebola now appears to be of the same ilk.
Besides causing vision problems, people often experience significant pain and weakness long after most symptoms of the disease have gone.
The Cafferkey case and others have raised the concern that Ebola could re-emerge months or years later in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. There still are no approved drugs or vaccines known to be effective against Ebola.
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