Long-Term Effects of Ebola Virus Infection Revealed


Despite clearing the virus, researchers find that Ebola survivors can suffer long-term effects of infection.

Although the 2014-2016 West African Ebola outbreak may have ended, a new study out of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has found that many survivors are suffering with “major limitations in mobility, cognition, and vision,” according to a press release on the research, from the university.

For the study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, Soushieta Jagadesh, MBBS, MSc, from Liverpool University, led a team of researchers in assessing disability in a cohort of 27 survivors “12 months following their discharge from the Ebola Survivors Clinic, 34 Military Hospital (MH34) in Freetown, Sierra Leone and compared with [54 of their unaffected] close contacts,” according to the press release. The Washington Group-Disability Extended Questionnaire (WG ES-F), which measures “self-reported physical and mental impairments” was used to assess disability across 6 domains: “vision, hearing, mobility, self-care, communication and cognition.” Severity and frequency of mental conditions (including anxiety, depression, pain and fatigability) were used to establish functionality scores. The results showed that significantly more survivors reported a disability in at least 1 of the 6 domains (78%), compared with the close contacts (11%).

The differences in physical disability were most apparent when assessing survivors’ ability to walk distances (100m and 500m) and climb 12 stairs. Results showed that survivors were “up to 206 times more likely to experience difficulty,” according to the study. In addition, survivors were found to have, very significantly increased mean pain scores, fatigue scores, anxiety scores and depression scores,” compared with the unaffected close contacts.

In terms of mental difficulties, survivors “had significantly higher subjective difficulties remembering or concentrating, and were 8 times more likely than controls to suffer from blurred vision.”

When speaking on the clinical significance of these results, Janet Scott, MD, Clinical Lecturer, University of Liverpool, said, “This study highlights that Ebola virus disease results in long-term substantial disability. Understanding post-Ebola syndrome could improve our future care of Ebola virus disease patients and patients suffering the sequelae of other severe viral infections.”

Researchers continue to learn new information about the deadly disease, including the virus’ ability to persist for in semen of previously-infected men for up to 2 years post-infection, and the role of superspreaders. Learning more about the long-term effects of the disease adds to the arsenal of treatment and prevention knowledge, now and in the event of future outbreaks to aid healthcare professionals in providing better patient outcomes against the virus.

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