London – Some global health experts said thousands of West Africans who survived the Ebola virus infection were suffering chronic conditions such as serious joint pain and eye inflammation that could lead to blindness.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said that the Ebola survivors who fought off the most severe bouts of infection were the most likely to suffer ongoing medical problems.
According to the experts, their health is becoming “an emergency within an emergency”.
Dr Anders Nordstrom, a WHO representative in Sierra Leone said, “the world has never seen such a large number of survivors from an Ebola outbreak.
“We have 13,000 survivors in the three countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“This is new, both from a medical and from a societal point of view,” he briefed reporters on telephone.
Dr Daniel Bausch of the WHO’s clinical care team on Ebola survivors said that about half of all those who fought off the virus now reported joint pain.
“Some are suffering such severe effects that they cannot work.
“Eye problems including inflammation, impaired vision and in severe but rare cases blindness have been reported by about 25 per cent of survivors.
“Sight problems, joint pain and headaches have been reported in a few survivors of previous outbreaks since the disease was first detected in 1976, but past epidemics were much smaller.
“This means that survivor numbers were too small to study or draw any meaningful scientific conclusions,’’ Bausch is reported as saying.
The Scientists however, believed that the vision impairments reported by survivors of the current outbreak were probably linked to the virus persisting in the eyes.
The experts also said that less measurable but equally serious long-term problems such as increasing rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and social exclusion were also affecting survivors.
They were not able to say whether survivors’ chronic health problems were unusual as the West Africa’s devastating Ebola epidemic was by far the largest ever seen.
During the outbreak, the EVD infected more than 27,000 people and killed almost 11,300 of them.
The Ebola virus is thought to be able to survive no more than 21 days in most body fluids, such as blood and vomit, which are the primary means of transmission.
But it is also known to be able to lurk in semen and in the soft tissues of the eye for up to several months after recovery.
According to the specialists, the outcome of the EVD outbreak in West Africa is not surprising as Ebola virus is dangerous and EVD could have long term impacts.
They said that the unprecedented outbreak however offered a unique opportunity to learn more about how to help survivors.