Following up on last week's post about the alleged sexual transmission of Ebola through a previously infected man's sperm, a new report this week has found a new potential reservoir for Ebola: the inside of a person's eye. The eye is a prime place for a virus to reside because the inside of the eye (alongside the testicles) exhibit immune privilege, a phenomenon wherein certain immune molecules and compounds are found at lower concentrations in these areas. Ebola was found in the eye of Dr. Ian Crozier, an American doctor who was infected with Ebola, and "recovered" from the virus in October. However, months later, high pressure in his eye developed, resulting in blurred vision and discomfort for Dr. Crozier. Knowing that Dr. Crozier was once infected with Ebola just a few months ago, opthalmologists at Emory University drew fluid from the inside of his eye to test if Ebola was responsible for the pressure build-up inside his eye.
Surprisingly, laboratory tests revealed the presence of Ebola in the inside of the Dr. Crozier's eyes, but not in his tears or surface film, meaning that while Ebola persisted in his system, his potential to infect others was very low. With no approved treatments for Ebola, Dr. Crozier's condition deteriorated rapidly. In a particularly gruesome incident, Dr. Crozier's eye changed color from blue to green for several weeks. Eye color change is extremely rare for viral infections, and usually indicate a severe infection. Scientists are preliminarily dubbing the new eye condition post-Ebola syndrome, as reports from West Africa suggest that other recovered patients have experienced similar eye problems.
Luckily for Dr. Crozier, an experimental treatment consisting of steroids and an antiviral has resulted in his gradual recovery, showing promise for treatments currently in development against the virus. His eye color, for example, reverted back to its natural blue color, and parts of his vision are returning. However, it is still too early to tell what the long-term effects of Ebola are, and if Dr. Crozier will ever fully recover from the disease. Future research is critically needed to study the chronic effects of Ebola, especially given that there have been relatively few infections and even fewer survivors prior to the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak.