WEDNESDAY, July 11, 2018 -- Ebola virus survivors may suffer greater long-term neurological consequences than doctors have believed, a small study suggests.
In some cases, the problems were so severe that survivors could no longer care for themselves. The issues ranged from debilitating migraines to strokes to nerve damage.
"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 lead researcher Janet Scott, from the University of Liverpool in England.
In the study, the research team reviewed the patient notes of over 300 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone with significant symptoms such as confusion, depression and psychosis. The investigators then narrowed that number down to 34 patients who were invited to attend a neuro-psychiatric clinic in 2016.
Once at the clinic, the survivors were given a full neurological examination, psychiatric screening and brain scans.
All 34 Ebola survivors were infected during the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa -- the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. There were more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined -- more than 11,300 people died. It also spread between countries, starting in Guinea then moving to Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Among the survivors in this latest study, many also had mental health problems, with the most frequent being major depression and anxiety disorders.
"Our findings support the need for larger, case-controlled studies. Post-Ebola syndrome is not going away, and those with the condition deserve better treatment," Scott said in a university news release.
The study was published July 11 in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Researcher Stephen Sevalie said, "We found a broad set of neurological and psychiatric symptoms -- from minor to extremely severe and disabling -- are present in Ebola survivors well over a year after discharge from hospital." Sevalie is a psychiatrist at Military Hospital 34 in Sierra Leone.
"Psychiatric features of insomnia, depression and anxiety are common, and our findings suggest that there is also a need for better understanding of the psychiatric and psychological consequences of Ebola virus disease," Sevalie added.
The World Health Organization has more on the Ebola virus.
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