A year from now, what will life be like for those patients suffering from Ebola who survive? The answer is unclear, as we have limited data on the long-term effects of this virus.
We know that during the active phase of the disease, a patient with Ebola will have severe fever, body aches and nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, cough and possibly bleeding, which can occur both internally and externally. Supportive treatment for a patient includes trying to lower his or her body temperature, replacing fluids to avoid dehydration, and administering blood transfusions that might be necessary to correct bleeding and clotting issues.
Any patient who survives a severe viral infection could have damage to their kidneys, liver and heart, as well as long-term fertility issues. So if an Ebola patient survives, you can only imagine some of the long-term consequences he or she may face. As more patients survive and recover from this disease, we might begin to get a better idea on some of these issues.
One area where we have where we are gaining knowledge as to the long-term effects of recovering from Ebola is the immune system.
Any time a patient survives a significant viral infection, the autoimmune responses that the patient undergoes could have secondary consequences on the rest of the body— particularly in areas that are quite sensitive to immunological reactions and inflammation, like the joints and eyes.
The general complaint by many of these patients is chronic body pain and severe joint pain— called arthralgia. In many cases, patients develop complications of the eyes resulting in a condition called uveitis. The condition causes patients to experience swelling and irritation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, which provides most of the blood supply to the retina. Symptoms can include blurred vision, floating spots in the vision, eye pain, redness and sensitivity to light. Most attacks of anterior uveitis— inflammation in the front of the eye— go away in a few days to weeks with proper treatment, but relapses are common. However, inflammation related to posterior uveitis— affecting the back part of the uvea— could last for months or years and may cause permanent vision damage, even with treatment.
In many of these cases, the patient would require anti-inflammatories, as well as steroid therapies.
After we look at the thousands of patients that are now being afflicted with Ebola, we’ll get a better picture of what the long-term consequences of this terrible virus will be.
One thing’s for certain for many of these patients -- they may survive, but they’ll never be the same.