Before he contracted Ebola, Dr. Ian Crozier had two blue eyes. After he was told he was cured of the disease, his left eye turned green.
The medic, who caught the bug while working in Sierra Leone, had blurred eyesight and pain two months after being declared Ebola-free.
The announcement on Thursday said the virus reappeared in Crozier who was diagnosed with Ebola in September 2014 while working with the World Health Organization. The test results were chilling: The inside of Dr. Crozier’s eye was teeming with Ebola. He was sent back to the US to Emory University Hospital’s special Ebola unit in Atlanta, Georgia.
Scientists say his eye infection presents no risk to the public, but reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine they warn that research is needed to see if Ebola can also linger in other parts of the body.
“If you had a mosquito bite on your retina it would blind you,” says Dr. Russell Van Gelder, chairman of ophthalmology at the University of Washington Medicine and president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. So eyes are “immune privileged”; they don’t respond to threats with inflammation like the skin and other body parts do.
“So it’s not surprising that when a virus gets in the eye, it can hide from the surveillance of the immune system and bide its time,” Van Gelder tells Shots. Cytomegalovirus and herpes viruses also can cause hard-to-fight eye infections.
Having an Ebola eye infection isn’t likely to pose a similar risk, Van Gelder says. The doctor’s tears and conjunctiva tested negative for the virus, even while it was replicating inside the eye.
it’s not the first time that Ebola has turned up in people’s eyes long after the fact. After an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1995, 15 percent of 71 people being studied came down with eye problems while convalescing.
Because tens of thousands of people survived the Ebola outbreak in Africa, there could be thousands of people who risk blindness from delayed eye infections, Van Gelder says.
The worst ever outbreak of Ebola began in southern Guinea in December 2013 before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The death toll now exceeds 11,000, the World Health Organisation reported this week.