The world’s largest Ebola outbreak is finally over, experts say, but many people who were infected with the virus still have various neurological problems, a new study suggests.
Dr. Lauren Bowen, author of the study and a neurologist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, said although the end of the outbreak has been announced, many Ebola survivors are still struggling with lasting problems in the brain.
During the outbreak, more than 28,600 contracted the virus in West Africa. Of those people, about 11,300 people died, according to Dr. Bowen.
In the new study – presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada – the researchers wanted to see whether the 17,000 survivors still had neurological health problems.
Dr. Bowen and her and her colleagues looked at a group of 82 people in Liberia who were infected with the virus during the Ebola outbreak. The researchers asked the study participants about their neurological symptoms during their treatment for Ebola, as well as after the treatment. The participants also underwent a neurological examination, Dr. Bowen said.
The results from the neurological examination showed that about 66 percent of the people appeared to have some abnormalities – which may indicate some degree of damage in the brain – in the way their eyes followed various moving objects, according to the researches.
Seventeen percent of the individuals had reflexes that occur when there are certain disorders affecting the brain’s frontal lobes. Moreover, one third of the participants appeared to have tremor – involuntary muscle contraction and relaxation that involves twitching movements and can affect the eyes, hands, arms, head, face, vocal folds, legs and trunk.
There were other neurological symptoms found by researchers, such as muscle pain, headaches, memory problems, weakness, and depressed mood. Of the eighty-two people, twenty-one reported having had hallucinations.
Twenty study participants said that the experienced meningitis – which is an acute inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the spinal cord and the brain – while they were being treated for Ebola, or after the treatment ended. At some point, fourteen people had been in a coma, according to Bowen.
During the study period, some of the most common symptoms experienced by the patients were: muscle pain, weakness, headaches, depressed mood, memory problems; two of the study participants even had suicidal thoughts.
Further research that also includes a control group is now being conducted by scientists. Dr. Bridgette Jeanne Billioux, co-author of the study a neurologist in Baltimore, Maryland, said that in order to see whether the survivors’ neurologic symptoms persist, there will be a study follow up for several more years.
It is still unclear how Ebola may leads to these neurologic problems, researchers noted. Perhaps the symptoms that patients experience could be related to the great amount of blood loss that often takes place when individuals are infected with the Ebola virus, according to the researchers.
The new study has yet to be been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
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