One more need in Ebola-stricken countries: Strategies to deal with survivors’ long-term health needs

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Study looks at persistent impact of Ebola virus infection

More than two years after surviving an Ebola virus that killed 39 people in Uganda, adults reported chronic debilitating health issues that included vision problems, hearing loss, headaches, joint pain, memory deficits, confusion, and trouble carrying out routine work activities, a study published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases found.

The study, which followed 49 adults who had been infected during a 2007-2008 Ebola virus outbreak in Uganda, compared their outcomes with those of 157 people who lived around them but who had not become infected. The study looked at a larger number of survivors and over a longer term than previous studies. While the study looked at survivors of Bundibugyo Ebola virus, a species that was found to have about a 25 percent mortality rate, as opposed to Zaire Ebola Virus, the species causing the current outbreak in west Africa, which has killed from 60-to-90 percent of those infected, study authors say the findings should be considered applicable to survivors of the current outbreak. Earlier, smaller studies of other Ebola outbreak survivors, including of the Zaire strain, also have found aftereffects that included limited ability to work. In the present outbreak, the authors note, the economic, as well as health ramifications of those aftereffects are significant.

An estimated 50 to 70 percent of those infected during the current outbreak, which has sickened nearly 25,000 people, have survived, adding impetus to understanding the projected health needs of those thousands of people, the authors note.

Dr. Hannak Kibuuka was the principal investigator of the study which was conducted by the Makerere University Walter Reed Project of Kampala, Uganda, with the Uganda Ministry of Health and district health care workers in Bundibugyo, Uganda. Established to conduct HIV vaccine research, the project also is testing an Ebola vaccine candidate with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The study comes as the current outbreak is waning, but also as a report in a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serves as a reminder of how quickly the virus can spread. The report, Ebola Transmission Linked to a Single Traditional Funeral Ceremony followed an outbreak following the illness and death of a male midwife assistant who apparently was ill when he returned from a work trip to his home in a remote rural community. During the month that followed, before the outbreak in the wake of his funeral was controlled, 85 people had become infected, and 63 had died. Eighteen of those infected had attended the man’s funeral, and the other 67 people had had contact with them.

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