While Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in just Western Africa in 2014-2015, the thousands who survived are now at risk of developing vision loss face issues caused by the infection. These survivors commonly face vision problems, ranging from uveitis (a form of eye inflammation) to optic neuropathy to panuveitis (inflammation of all the layers of the uveal tract).
One study found that nearly 40 percent of the people observed developed an ocular disease. The most common symptoms were blurry vision and photophobia — sensitivity to light — observed in 76 and 68 percent of patients, respectively. Tearing, pain, floaters and redness in the eyes were also prevalent. Many of those examined also had glaucoma and retinal detachment.
The Congo’s Reaction to the Latest Ebola Outbreak
Learning from previous outbreaks, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently set up a clinic in Beni to provide eye care for Ebola survivors. This is the first time that follow-up eye treatment has been offered so soon after patients have been released from care. A similar clinic has also been established in Butembo, another heavily affected area.
Survivors of Ebola have helped establish this clinic, providing aid and community outreach in this time of need. Emory University and the University of North Carolina have also donated ophthalmologists to help the effort get on its feet. Organizations, such as the WHO, are also working with the Ministry of Health to keep the clinics thriving.
So far, 250 people have been seen and examined. From their initial tests, complications like uveitis were low compared to previous outbreaks. Plans are also in place to train 10 Congolese ophthalmologists on Ebola-related issues in order to expand treatment options for patients. Over the following months, more clinics will be established to accommodate more than 300 patients who are on the waiting list.
The Need for Screening
While it remains unclear as to why Ebola affects people’s vision, it is clear that there is some correlation. Some studies show that Ebola may lead to uveitis because a higher viral load enables Ebola to enter the eye and establish viral persistence, which later leads to uveitis.
Doctors are finding that eye care for Ebola survivors relies heavily on early screening. One study showed that patients who were promptly screened for an initial assessment for the disease were easier to treat and at less risk for reduced vision. While more research is needed to determine the links between Ebola and visions loss, the establishment of clinics in disease-prone areas is a step in the right direction.
– Michela Rahaim