Of the thousands who contracted the Ebola virus, there is little information about the survivors. Curiosity is intense about the who, what, when, where, why and how of those blessed to beat this deadly virus.
The Ebola epidemic is winding down but it’s not over. There were 20 confirmed cases in the week ending June 21, including 12 cases in Guinea and eight in Sierra Leone. This compared with 24 cases the previous week, according to the World Health Organization.
Weekly case incidence has stalled at between 20 and 27 since the end of May, WHO reports.
Scientists have turned their attention from containment to studying the more lasting effects of the Ebola virus. As little was known at the start regarding treatment for Ebola, even less was known about the long-term health effects on those who survived the virus.
Doctors and scientists are issuing extreme warnings and advice for survivors that may change their lives forever. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about Ebola survivors.
Sources: News.Yahoo.com, TWCNews.com, HoustonChronicle.com, NYTimes.com, WHO.int, NPR.org, AllAfrica.com, Vice.com, WHO.
After the death of Ruth Tugbah in Liberia in March 2015, scientists traced the virus back to her boyfriend who had been treated for Ebola in September 2014. Though the virus has a maximum incubation period of 21 days, the active virus had been detected for up to 82 days in semen – the probable vehicle of transmission that infected Tugbah.
As it is unclear how long the virus can remain in bodily fluids, particularly semen. Health officials have urged Ebola survivors to practice safe sex indefinitely until more information can be found. Earlier, men were advised to abstain from intercourse, or to use condoms for three months, but new guidelines are being urged on all affected communities.
Though specific tests have not been run to test condoms’ effectiveness against Ebola, they are thought to be effective. Condoms are able to block transmission of viruses much smaller than Ebola. Known as bacteriophages, they are just 27 nanomillimeters compared to Ebola’s 80-nanomillimeter size.
Scientists are developing new research protocols to test the length of time Ebola may remain in various bodily fluids. World Health Organization is working on studies to test tears, sweat, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk, according to Medical Officer Nathalie Broutet. It is thought that certain parts of the body, the testes in particular, may be able to harbor the virus longer than others due to its inaccessibility to immune cells.
There are 1,538 survivors listed on the Ebola Survivor Network of Liberia. Of those, 53 percent regularly complain of body ache. Another 18 percent have eye defects that still require medical attention. Six male survivors have since reported impotency, and one survivor is suffering from paralysis. The full range of medical consequences of surviving the virus are still unknown.
Given the extremely contagious nature of the virus, those who survived Ebola face stigmatization from their communities. Many lost their jobs, with former coworkers too scared to be around them. Some became outcasts in their own families and communities. Even health professionals such as Ebola survivor Dr. Ada Igonoh cite stigmatization from the health community. “You would hear doctors who would say, ‘I’m sorry Ada, I love you, but I will not hug you.’ So stigmatization is not limited to the uneducated. It’s also among the educated. People fear what they don’t understand, and it’s the fear that actually drives people to stigmatize. Once that fear is eliminated, people would stop stigmatizing.”
Mohamed and Zena survived the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and took it upon themselves to try and inform the public about ways to prevent the spread of the disease with simple precautions. Despite the work they are doing on the ground, however, they both prefer not to use their real names or show their faces due to the strong stigma.
In Sierra Leone, several Ebola survivors have been sent to jail on charges of infecting their sexual partners with the disease. The WHO has been working closely with governments to prevent punitive actions, and ministries of health and justice have recently issued clear instructions ordering districts to release those that have been jailed in response to Ebola.
The stigmatization of survivors prompted some communities and volunteers to begin opening clinics to help. U.S. missionary and Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol returned to her home in Liberia eight months after first contracting the virus. Now a survivor, she is working to establish an Ebola survivors’ clinic to help others experiencing stigma. Another survivor, Sierra Leone nurse Rebecca Johnson, started Pink Cross in Sierra Leone to provide counseling for Ebola survivors facing stigmatization, and to conduct public awareness campaigns.
Source: TWCNews.com, Edition.CNN.com
The fear surrounding the Ebola epidemic created mass trauma on an international scale. Even those not physically affected had the emotional impact of losing loved ones, seeing their communities torn apart, their economic livelihoods demolished, and more. Trauma counseling in affected communities is part of an ongoing effort to help move past the epidemic.
Various drug companies and countries have begun studies to develop a vaccine against Ebola. While the WHO has not made any statements that point to an inclination for mass vaccination as a prevention tactic, the vaccines are an important tool to prevent future outbreaks. To learn more about the Ebola vaccines, read more information at WHO.
While the research about the after effects of Ebola is ongoing, health officials are urging the public to take precautions and avoid prolonging the outbreak. At the same time, they want to avoid further stigmatization of survivors already facing the fear and mistrust from their communities.
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