The most recent Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 11,000 lives, more than all the previous outbreaks combined; however, 17,000 people from West Africa have survived the infection. Unfortunately, new evidence, due to be presented at the Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April, shows that many survivors will suffer from long-lasting health problems. This includes neurological and muscular afflictions, according to BBC News.
The initial analysis focused on 82 Liberian survivors during the peak of their infection. As well as the expected symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, severe weight loss, and significant bleeding, they also exhibited distinct neurological problems. Meningitis, hallucinations, and falling into a coma were all observed.
Six months on from the original infection, long after the primary identifying symptoms had disappeared, additional problems had clearly developed. Two-thirds of the survivors reported body weakness, and 50 percent of them said that they had regular headaches, depressiveness, and frequent memory loss. Two of the survivors exhibited extremely heightened suicidal tendencies.
Dr. Lauren Bowen, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told BBC News that “this is a young population of patients, and we wouldn't expect to have seen these sorts of problems. When people had memory loss, it tended to affect their daily living, with some feeling they couldn't return to school or normal jobs, some had terrible sleeping problems."
“Ebola hasn't gone away for these people,” she added.
At present, it’s not clear if these new symptoms will disappear as the bodies of the survivors continue to heal. Some of the psychological problems may actually be related to the social exclusion that results from someone becoming infected with Ebola; other issues, such as eye problems and damage to the brain, may never heal.
Previous evidence has already revealed that, long after Ebola infection symptoms are gone, the virus remains a sexually transmitted disease. Ebola appears to persist in the semen of male survivors far longer than previously thought – at least up to nine months. This new research once again shows that Ebola is far more complex than just the initial infection, and that serious health problems persist long after an epidemic appears to be on the way out.