Lasting impact of Ebola on eye health

University of Liverpool researchers find 15% of Ebola survivors have a retinal scar that is specific to the disease


A study of 82 Ebola survivors by researchers from the University of Liverpool has revealed that 15% have a retinal scar that is specific to the disease. 

An eye health team led by Dr Paul Steptoe compared eye examinations of individuals living in Sierra Leone with post-Ebola syndrome to a control population. Their findings are published in Emerging Infectious Diseases

Using ultra-wide retinal imaging the researchers detected a unique retinal scar that appeared specific to Ebola survivors. 

Dr Steptoe highlighted to OT that while the scars from Ebola varied in shape, they had characteristic sharp angulations, appearing similar to an “arrow head.”

“The distribution of these retinal scars follow the pathways of the nerves in the retina,” he explained. 

“This suggests the virus is able to enter the eye via the optic nerve from the brain. The ability of Ebola to travel along the nerves has not previously been recognised and may provide a new opportunity to target treatments,” Dr Steptoe elaborated. 

Some of the Ebola patients who had previously had uveitis developed cataracts. 

Dr Steptoe highlighted that Ebola survivors were denied access to cataract surgery, due to fears that the virus remained present in the eye.

To try and prove that cataract surgery was safe, Dr Steptoe and his team analysed the aqueous eye fluid from two Ebola survivors with cataracts.

“We found no evidence of residual Ebola virus in the ocular fluid providing the initial evidence that sight restoring cataract surgery is safe to undertake but further research with more numbers is required,” he concluded. 

Image credit: Paul Steptoe/Ebola Survivor Study