May 18, 2019 11:49 AM EDT
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC is the largest outbreak in the country since 1976 when the Ebola virus was first identified in what was then known as Zaire. The outbreak is happening against a backdrop of distrust of outsiders, security instability and limited resources. More than 1,700 cases of the disease and 110 deaths have been reported since the outbreak began in August 2018.
Lessons from the West African Ebola outbreak of 2013 to 2016 have been implemented to improve the clinical outcomes and quell the spread of the outbreak in the DRC. The global community also learned about the risk of health complications after the Ebola virus disease. There is a wide range of complications, these include abdominal pain, arthritis, mental health as well as eye complications.
Researchers have done extensive investigation on how Ebola affects the vision of those who have survived the disease. So far, they have established that an inflammatory disease of the eye develops in around 25% of survivors and the risk increases as the months' pass.
The research identified a condition that develops in Ebola survivors, it is called uveitis. It is an inflammatory condition of the eye that may lead to pain, light sensitivity, redness and eventually vision loss. The risk of vision loss can be very challenging to daily living.
The Ebola virus was first identified in the eye of a US health care worker and survivor who developed uveitis after recovering from Ebola illness in 2014. After the initial description of Ebola virus persistence leading to uveitis, physicians from Emory University evaluated over 1,200 Ebola survivors in West Africa. This led to a better understating of how uveitis affected eyesight and the development of treatment protocols for surgical and medical care.
Although the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was able to spread awareness about uveitis and the danger of losing the eyesight, translating these lessons into improved vision health is still an ongoing necessity, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The key component of survivor health is counseling patients on the risk of having uveitis and the symptoms that they should be aware of so that they can get urgent eye care.
The surveillance of eye disease in survivors are still considered critical, given the instability, security concerns, funding gaps, and community mistrust, the Ebola outbreak that is still growing will require ongoing ophthalmic support.
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