Ebola survivors suffer severe mental and neurological problems

(Reuters) – People who survive the deadly Ebola virus can continue to suffer severe psychiatric and neurological problems including depression, debilitating migraines, nerve pain and stroke, according to a study published on Wednesday.

A laboratory worker uses a microscope at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

Researchers who analysed patients infected during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa found that some survivors had such severe health conditions that they were left unable to care for themselves.

“We knew that a disease as severe as Ebola would leave survivors with major problems – however, it took me aback to see young and previously active people who had survived but were now unable to move half their bodies, or talk, or pick up their children,” said Janet Scott of Britain’s University of Liverpool, who co-led the research.

She said the findings show a need for larger and more detailed studies of Ebola survivors compared to matched controls who did not get virus.

Published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, the study looked at patient notes from of more than 300 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst hit in the 2014-2016 epidemic.

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Thirty-four selected patients were then asked to attend a joint neuro-psychiatric clinic in 2016 where they underwent a full neurological examination, psychiatric screening and specialist investigations including brain scan imaging.

Patrick Howlett of King’s College London, who co-led the research, said its results showed that Ebola survivors can suffer with “post-Ebola syndrome” or PES – a wide range of disorders “from minor to extremely severe and disabling”.

Neurological problems included stroke, debilitating migraine-type headaches and nerve pain, while the most frequent psychiatric diagnoses among the survivors studied were depression and anxiety.

The 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,300 people and infected around 28,000 as it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates suggest there are well over 10,000 people who survived the disease.

The researchers said the findings pointed to an urgent need for specialist medical professionals trained in the needs of Ebola survivors and how best to treat PES.

“Post-Ebola syndrome is not going away, and those with the condition deserve better treatment,” said Scott.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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