Thousands of West Africans who were infected with the Ebola virus but survived it are suffering chronic conditions such as serious joint pain and eye inflammation that can lead to blindness, global health experts have said.
Ebola survivors who fought off the most severe bouts of infection are the most likely to suffer ongoing medical problems, World Health Organization experts said, and their health is becoming “an emergency within an emergency.”
“The world has never seen such a large number of survivors from an Ebola outbreak,” said Anders Nordstrom, a WHO representative in Sierra Leone who took part in a five-day conference this week about Ebola survivors.
“We have 13,000 survivors in the three countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone). This is new – both from a medical and from a societal point of view,” Reuters quoted Nordstrom as saying to reporters on a telebriefing.
Daniel Bausch of the WHO’s clinical care team on Ebola survivors said about half of all those who fought off the virus now report joint pain, with some suffering such severe effects that they can’t work.
Eye problems including inflammation, impaired vision and – in severe but rare cases – blindness, have been reported by about 25 percent of survivors, Bausch said.
Less measurable but equally serious long-term problems, such as increasing rates of depression, post traumatic stress disorder and social exclusion, are also affecting survivors.
Since West Africa’s devastating Ebola epidemic was by far the largest ever seen – infecting more than 27,000 people and killing almost 11,300 of them – scientists are not able to say whether survivors’ chronic health problems are unusual.