Ebola Lurked in a Doctor’s Eye for Months
The medic, who caught the bug while working in Sierra Leone, had blurred eyesight and pain two months after being declared Ebola-free.
Scientists say his eye infection presents no risk to the public.
But reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine they warn that research is needed to see if Ebola can also linger in other parts of the body.
Patients with Ebola are generally discharged once tests show the virus is no longer present in blood. At this point, experts say, it cannot be spread to members of the general public.
But there have been suggestions the virus could live on in certain bodily fluids – for example in the semen of survivors some weeks after recovery.
Now a team, including scientists from Emory University School of Medicine, say it could also persist in the eye and lead to further damage.
Their 43-year-old patient recovered from a serious Ebola infection that needed weeks of intensive care.
But shortly after being discharged, he had a burning sensation in his eyes and suffered worsening blurry vision.
Tests showed the fluid in his left eye had live Ebola virus.
And doctors say there was widespread inflammation in his eye which can lead to blindness.
But after three months of treatment with steroids and antiviral drugs, his vision began to improve.
Experts think the virus’s staying power might be due to the eye’s ability to tolerate certain pathogens once inside its walls.
They suggest further studies are now warranted to check for the the presence of the virus in other “immune privileged” sites such as the central nervous system, testicles and cartilage.
And doctors are calling for more help for survivors in the worst-affected countries. Recovering patients are reporting eye problems among other difficulties.
But eye specialists are in short supply in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Dr Russell Van Gelder, of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said: “This remarkable case now demonstrates that the virus can remain viable in ocular fluids long after the patient has recovered from the systemic infection.
“If the Ebola epidemic continues, ophthalmologists throughout the world will be seeing patients with post-Ebola uveitis (inflammation), and will need to recognise and treat this condition.
“However, I want to emphasise that as far as we know, the Ebola virus is not transmitted by casual contact.
“The current study does not suggest that infection can be transmitted through contact with tears of patients who have recovered from their initial infection.”