American doctor Ian Crozier was treated for Ebola in Atlanta last year and declared free of the virus in his blood. But he had no way of knowing it still lurked in his eye.
Weeks after he was released from the hospital, he experienced a piercing pain in his left eye, he told The New York Times. The pressure in his eye elevated while his vision decreased.
After repeated tests, doctors discovered the virus was still living in his eye.
“It felt almost personal that the virus could be in my eye without me knowing it,” he told the paper.
His case has left doctors stunned and highlighted the need for eye checkups for Ebola survivors.
Crozier, 43, was hospitalized at Emory University Hospital for more than a month in September after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone, where he worked at a hospital.
About two months after he was discharged, he developed eye problems and returned to Emory, where doctors stuck a needle in his eye and removed some fluid. The fluid tested positive for the virus. (The virus is also known to live in semen months after it’s gone from the blood.)
“Following recovery from Ebola virus disease, patients should be followed for the development of eye symptoms including pain, redness, light sensitivity and blurred vision, which may be signs of uveitis,” said Steven Yeh, associate professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine.
Uveitis is an inflammation of the eye’s middle layer.
No risk of spreading the virus
Despite the presence of the virus in the eye, samples from tears and the outer eye membrane tested negative, which means the patient was not at risk of spreading the disease during casual contact, Emory said in a statement Thursday.
It did not name the patient, but The New York Times did. The New England Journal of Medicine also released a study on the case.
Though the patient was not at risk of spreading the virus, all health care providers treating survivors, including eye doctors, must follow Ebola safety protocols, says Jay Varkey, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine.
Ebola patient for a second time
When the virus was found in Crozier’s eye, it started losing its original blue hue, he told the paper.
Bewildered, doctors tested different forms of treatment as he relived his Ebola nightmare.
They gave him a steroid shot above his eyeball and had him take an experimental antiviral pill that required special approval from the Food and Drug Administration, The New York Times reported.
His eye gradually returned to normal, but it’s unclear whether it was as a result of the steroid shot, pill or his body’s immune system.
While the eye problems are not an entirely new revelation — survivors in West Africa have reported such issues — it’s unclear how prevalent the condition is and how often it happens.
“These findings have implications for the thousands of Ebola virus disease survivors in West Africa and also for health care providers who have been evacuated to their home countries for ongoing care,” Varkey said. “Surveillance for the development of eye disease in the post-Ebola period is needed.”
Epidemic slowly fading
Over the past year, about 25,000 people have fought Ebola infections. More than 10,000 have not survived, mostly in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
While the intensity of the largest Ebola epidemic in history has died down, a few people are still newly infected each week.
At least 18 new cases of Ebola were reported in the week ending May 3, the latest World Health Organization report says. All were in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
But as the number of new cases plummet, many unknowns remain on the aftereffects of the virus.