Ebola survivors are more prone to neurological disorders, researchers have recently determined.
The findings will be discussed at the 68th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, scheduled to take place in Vancouver, Canada between April 15 and April 21, 2016.
Data was collected as part of the Ebola Natural History Study (PREVAIL III) which was launched in order to investigate the health problems and complications that can affect Ebola survivors.
So far, over 28,600 individuals have contracted the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, ever since March 2014, the countries that have been the most severely impacted being Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
11,300 people have succumbed to the disease, while the rest have managed to pull through, but it appears even they remain shaken and frail after facing this life-threatening illness.
An analysis, sponsored by the Liberian Ministry of Health and by the National Institutes of Health, was led by Lauren Bowen, affiliated with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, from Bethesda, Maryland.
A total of 82 Ebola survivors with a mean age of 35 were included in the research, all of them being recruited from Liberia.
It was determined that while battling the disease, a large number of these subjects exhibited perturbations affecting the central and peripheral nervous system. For instance, 14 of them fell into a coma, while 20 developed meningitis, and others suffered from hallucinations.
Even 6 months following their initial infection with the Ebola virus, many patients experienced various neurological disorders. The vast majority of the symptoms included muscle aches, debilitating sleep problems, migraines, fatigue and depression.
Memory loss was also a common manifestation, usually being so severe that it caused the young patients to feel that they wouldn’t able able to cope with school or job duties anymore.
Two of the individuals complained of experiencing suicidal ideation (propensity towards thinking about how to kill oneself), while 21 reported having had hallucinations.
In addition, approximately a third of the Ebola survivors were affected by tremors, reflex abnormalities and nystagmus (uncontrollable eye movements), while 17% suffered other complications indicating that their frontal lobe function had been negatively impacted.
Some of the health issues, such as depression and suicidal thoughts, may have been triggered by trauma associated with being kept in isolation units, away from family and friends. Others may simply be occurring because the body hasn’t had enough time to heal completely.
Such problems could be addressed by undergoing physical rehabilitation or by taking part in therapy sessions so as to facilitate social integration.
However, there are certain symptoms, such as eye movement abnormalities and other vision problems, which aren’t so easy to tackle, and which seem to signal brain damage that may never be reversed.
Such issues were also encountered among American Ebola survivors, such as Dr. Ian Crozier who experienced blurry vision, ocular hypertension and eye color changes, or Dr. Richar Sacra, who suffered temporary vision loss, light sensitivity (photophobia), eye inflammation etc.
For now, the findings are just preliminary, given the fact that they haven’t yet been detailed in a peer-reviewed journal.
Even so, they still raise concerns about the far-reaching repercussions that an Ebola infection has on the physical and mental well-being of the individuals who have battled this disease.
Of the 17,000 patients that have endured following the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, it’s likely that a large number of Ebola survivors still experience brain health issues, probably following the major blood loss they have suffered.
As a result, it’s imperative to carry out further research in this field, so as to better understand the scope of these complications, in order to prevent them, detect them early enough and address them more effectively.
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