WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The Ebola virus remains in the bodies of survivors at low levels after recovery, causing symptoms and leaving open the possibility of spreading it, according to three recent studies of survivors in West Africa.
Post-Ebola syndrome continues to affect some of the approximately 17,000 people who survived the virus as many have eye, musculoskeletal or neurological symptoms, researchers have found in recent months.
Ebola has been found in the eyes, semen, spines and brains of survivors for six months or more after recovery. The World Health Organization suggests patients wait at least 90 days after recovery before having sex, or to practice safe sex, because doctors suspect the virus has been spread by sexual contact.
"There has been mounting evidence of both mental and physical health problems in Ebola survivors after the virus is cleared from the bloodstream," Dr. Janet Scott, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, said in a press release. "In some cases these health problems, such as damage to joints, brain and eyes, may be caused by Ebola virus persisting and causing damage in some of the compartments of the body that are less accessible to the immune system."
Scott was involved in a study, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, treating 84 people in Sierra Leone with Ebola, 44 of whom survived. Interviewed three weeks after they'd been cleared of the virus, 70 percent of survivors reported musculoskeletal pain, 48 percent had headaches, and 14 percent had problems with their eyesight.
A study with 82 Liberian survivors, conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, found most had some type of neurological abnormality at least six months after they contracted Ebola. The most common problems among patients were weakness, headache, memory loss and depression, in addition to one who reported hallucinations and two who were suicidal.
"While an end to the outbreak has been declared, these survivors are still struggling with long-term problems," Dr. Lauren Bowen, a researcher at the NINDS, said in a press release.
Similar reports came from survivors in another study conducted by the Liberian Ministry of Health.
Of 1,022 survivors enrolled, 60 percent had eye problems, 53 percent had musculoskeletal problems and 68 percent had neurological difficulties, researchers reported during a presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
"Currently, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of Post-Ebola Syndrome," Scott said. "The continued study of survivors is necessary if we are to learn more about how the Ebola virus works and how it affects them. The Ebola epidemic is waning, but the effects of the disease will remain."