Ebola changed the world. That is not such a melodramatic statement, when you reason that it was a disease whose very nature discouraged social interactions and changed age-old traditions. Africa was hit hard by the disease, as handshakes and hugs, that were a huge part of the African expressive nature were eschewed for more subdued greetings. A suspicion mentality invaded us and there were of course the people who fell victim to the disease, a number of them lost their lives, but as science caught up, a good number also survived.
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Doctors from the US National Institutes of Health however say that most people who survive an Ebola infection will have long-lasting health problems. Their studies were based on the survivors in Liberia and it showed that a large number of them had developed weakness, depressive symptoms and memory loss in the six months since being discharged from an Ebola unit. Some other patients were actually suicidal or were having hallucinations.
Its not the first study that has been carried out on the negative effects of the aftermath of Ebola, findings were published late last year in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases. That particular study had been based on clinical and laboratory records from patients at the EVD Survivor Clinic in Port Loko, Sierra Leone. The clinic was run by non-governmental organizations under the oversight of the Sierra Leone health ministry had provided clinical care for 603 of the 661 survivors of Ebola living in the Port Loko district, about 45 kilometers east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Among the 277 survivors studied in that case during March and April, 2015, complications such as vision, hearing and joint pain were reported.
In this current study, the initial analysis of 82 survivors showed most to have severe neurological problems at the height of the infection, which included meningitis, hallucinations or a coma, six months after, new long-term problems had developed. Body weakness, regular headaches, depressive symptoms and memory loss were common among the patients.
Dr. Lauren Bowen, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told the BBC that Ebola had not gone away from these people; “It was pretty striking, this is a young population of patients, and we wouldn’t expect to have seen these sorts of problems…When people had memory loss, it tended to affect their daily living, with some feeling they couldn’t return to school or normal jobs, some had terrible sleeping problems.”
Earlier presentation of data at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections indicated that 38% of men had tested positive for Ebola in their semen on at least one occasion in the year after recovering, raising concerns about sexual transmission of the virus in its survivors. In extreme cases Ebola in the semen had been detected 18 months later while most survivors reported being sexually active with only four in every hundred apparently using a condom.
Ebola is terrible enough as a ravager of the body, but these new reports project that other symptoms which include eye problems and damage to brain may not heal. There is also the social trauma of being ostracized from their families and communities upon discovery of the infection.