What is it like to survive the Ebola virus?

Mudassir Ali
Mar 11, 2020 10:41 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Mar 11, 2020 10:42 AM

Ebola survivors still sick after seven years
Publish Date: Dec 14, 2007
Newvision Archive
By Chris Ocowun and Charles Wendo

SEVEN years after surviving the deadly ebola haemorrhagic fever, a number of people in Gulu have not fully recovered from the disease. Many are still suffering from headaches, general body pains, general weakness, poor vision and reduced sexual abilities.

One such survivor is Olga Akello, 20, who lives in Gulu town. In October 2000 she was taking care of her mother, who died of ebola, when she got infected.
“I started feeling headache, cold and malaria.

I had blood in my vomit and diarrhoea and when I was taken to Lacor on October 9, 2000, blood was now coming from my eyes, noise and other openings,” she recalls. “I was alone in the isolation ward and my father and other relatives were barred from visiting me.”

On October 28, 2000 she was discharged after her body defeated the killer virus.

“But up to now I still feel a lot of pain in my chest, frequent severe headache and I have problems with my sight. I am not able to carry heavy things on my head because of the pain.”

Another survivor, Caroline Otto, 52, is a nurse who was infected while on duty.
“I was tested and found to be ebola positive. The doctor did not tell me that I had ebola, but they transferred me to Lacor hospital isolation ward,” she recalls.

“I was alone in the isolation ward for three weeks. I vomited blood, collapsed and became unconscious.”

While she was in the hospital, her family members were blocked from fetching water from community sources for fear that they might have ebola.

They were not allowed to mix with other people.
“When I was discharged, I was monitored by the medics for one year to see how I was progressing,” she explained.

Otto said to date, she still feels a lot of pain in the head, joints and other body parts and general weakness.
“When it’s cold, I feel a lot of pain and when it’s hot I lose my sight. Sometimes I experience swelling in both legs.

My liver and spleen had enlarged by the time I was tested but now I don’t know if they have gone back to their normal size. I cannot do heavy work, not even carrying a 20-litre jerrycan of water.

Sometimes I develop mental illness.”

Walter Odong, the LC3 chairperson of Layibi division in Gulu municipality, gets headaches whenever he goes out in the sun. He cannot do without a cap to protect his head.

Odong was admitted to Gulu Hospital on November 22, 2000.
He saw several patients die near him. He developed mental problems and became aggressive to medical workers. He even escaped from hospital and went home before he was discharged and transported home.

“I could take five litres of oral rehydration solution daily. There was no other treatment apart from ORS and a drip. After some days I could not take any more oral rehydration solution and I resorted to drinking cold mineral water and fruit juice. There was a time I could not urinate for two days.”

On December 4, the day the Dr. Matthew Lukwiya died, Odong was declared ebola free and told to walk back home.

“Now I cannot read for long and there is constant chest pain,” he says. “There is general weakness among us the survivors and general sexual weakness.”

Dr. Sam Okware, the chairperson of the national task force on ebola, says the survivors will be monitored closely for a long time.
He advises that they seek medical treatment whenever they get any complications.

He, however, clarifies that although the survivors still have pain, they no longer suffered from ebola when they were discharged from hospital.

“What they are saying is true. We are putting up some studies to find out the residual effects this virus has on the body. We are going to study the long-term effects,” Okware says.

Pierre Rollin, an expert from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA, says previously he had not heard about people suffering from ebola-related pain for so many years, although he knew some of the symptoms could last for months.

“I believe what they say but that needs to be documented so that we can have some information because we never heard that before,” says Rollin, who is in Uganda to help control the ebola outbreak in Bundibugyo.

“I have no idea why they continue suffering for such a long time. I don’t think anybody knows.”
He says there is no specific treatment for ebola or its long-lasting effects.
Doctors only treat symptoms. Some patients are lucky to have enough immunity to kick out the virus from their bodies.

But, says Rollin, it is not clear why some patients are able to develop this immunity while others cannot.
It appears the survivors might have to live with these problems for the rest of their lives.

They appeal to the Government to help them set up income-generating activities so that they do not do work that needs a lot of energy.

Unfortunately, two survivors have since died as a result of such complications, according to the chairman of the district ebola victims’ association, Walter Odong.

The Gulu survivors say they would like to be given an opportunity to go to Bundibugyo to help educate the communities about the disease.

The revelation from Gulu, that ebola survivors continue suffering from the after effects of the disease, not only adds to the global knowledge on ebola, but might also serve as a wake up call to those in authority about the long term dangers of the virus.

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