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Infectious Diseases

25 February 2016

Ebola may leave lasting neurological problems

Six months after recovering from the illness, Ebola survivors are still reporting headaches, memory loss and depression.

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Many Ebola survivors have brain symptoms that last long after other signs of the potentially fatal infection are gone, a new study finds.

Neurological issues

"While an end to the outbreak has been declared, these survivors are still struggling with long-term problems," study author Dr Lauren Bowen, from the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in an American Academy of Neurology news release.

The research team checked the health of 82 Ebola survivors in Liberia, one of three West African countries at the epicentre of the 2014 Ebola epidemic. Their average age was 35. At least six months after they were first infected with the virus, most had some type of neurological issue.

Read: Signs and symptoms of Ebola 

Common problems included weakness, headache, memory loss, depressed mood, muscle pain, tremors, abnormal eye movements and irregular reflexes, the researchers said.

Two of the survivors were suicidal and one had hallucinations, according to the study.

Long term effects

"More than 28,600 people were infected with Ebola in West Africa during the outbreak. Of that number, 11,300 died.

Read: Could Ebola hit SA?

"We wanted to find out more about possible continued long-term brain health problems for the more than 17,000 survivors of the infection," Bowen explained.

"It is important for us to know how this virus may continue to affect the brain long term," she said.

The study is to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

Read more: 

New Ebola test gives results in 11 minutes 

Two experimental Ebola vaccines appear safe 

Sierra Leone discharges last known Ebola patient