Something Terrifying Is Happening to Ebola Survivors

Turns out they aren’t out of the woods just yet.

Ebola, the rare and deadly deadly virus which has killed thousands in Africa and caused panic in the Europe and the U.S. at the end of 2014, has faded from the headlines as the epidemic appeared to subside. But for some who endured the virus’s horrific symptoms — in which the body almost seems to melt from within — only to survive and go home again, it turns out Ebola lays all sorts of land mines in the body.

As Tech Insider reported in a comprehensive look at the aftermath of surviving Ebola, once the cameras are gone and those who have been through the worst go home, they frequently find out Ebola is as sneaky as it is deadly:

…Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey was readmitted to a London hospital on October 9 in “serious condition.” This was a full nine months after doctors said she had made a full recovery from Ebola.

As doctors are poignantly learning, saying a patient is “cured” of the virus doesn’t necessarily mean it is completely eradicated from the body. Ebola survivors like Cafferkey are experiencing lingering symptoms such as vision and hearing loss, seizures, insomnia, and body aches that have persisted for months following infection.

At least one male Ebola survivor, American physician Ian Crozier, confronted a particularly ugly consequence: Ebola lingered on in his corneal fluid, changing his eye color, as well as his semen.

If Cafferky is any indication, patients’ brief exposure to Ebola may cause further complications for the rest of their lives. “The virus, several experts said, managed to somehow persist and apparently re-emerged to cause a severe disorder of her central nervous system,” The New York Timesreported on Wednesday. “Her spinal fluid had tested positive for traces of Ebola.”

Since Ebola is so thoroughly deadly and tends to strike in African countries where advanced health care can be hard to come by, it’s hard to nail down how common it is for survivors to continue experiencing issues. One survivor, Ashoka Mukpo, was traumatized by his experience, but in September he told CNN he was feeling “pretty strong physically, psychologically, and spiritually.” 

Still, it’s clear that sometimes when Ebola is done, it isn’t really done. Physicians will likely be paying close attention to survivors for years to come. 

In the meantime, we’ll keep the sanitizing gel close by and try to avoid freaking out at learning how the virus can continue to lurk in various body fluids. Everything is fine. Really. We hope.

Photos by NIAID/Flickr


Deputy Digital Editor,