Ebola survivors may be at increased risk of death, study suggests

An Ebola survivor, who works as a caregiver, holds an infant near a treatment center in Butembo, DRC. Photo by: REUTERS / Baz Ratner

MANILA — A new study is prompting efforts to further understand the health risks faced by Ebola survivors after it revealed that 59 survivors of the West Africa Ebola outbreak in Guinea have died after hospital discharge.

The deaths in Guinea were recorded as part of a national surveillance program for survivors that aimed to detect viral persistence and provide free medical care and psychosocial support. The follow-up took place from Dec. 8, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016, and was able to receive information from 1,130 of the 1,270 known Ebola survivors in the country.

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Five died within a month of hospital discharge, three within three months, four within 3-12 months after discharge, and four died a year after discharge. The exact date of death was not determined for the remaining 43 Ebola survivors who died.

Information on causes of death was limited due to data management issues. The medical files for each death are no longer available, according to the study.

But medical epidemiologists suspect over 60% of the deaths may have been due to renal failure, based on reports by family members of patients suffering from anuria and creatinine concentrations. Three of those who died were patients at the hemodialysis center in Donka National Hospital in Conakry.

Study authors recommended future studies to investigate the long-term risks of renal failure among Ebola survivors.

“Our tentative finding of renal failure as a possible cause of death after discharge has not been found previously — but there has been no previous study on this scale,” said Judith Glynn, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the U.K. and one of the study’s authors.

The study highlighted the importance of strengthening monitoring programs for survivors of Ebola, especially those who stayed in the hospital for longer than 12 days. The authors hope a similar study will be replicated in other countries that were previously affected by Ebola, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ebola deaths have now topped 2,000.

“In the current epidemic, there have already been deaths among survivors in DRC. Almost all of these deaths occurred within 6 months after discharge from the treatment center,” Glynn said.

She said a project to investigate and clarify the causes of the deaths of the Ebola survivors is in the works, led by the DRC Ministry of Health with support from the World Health Organization.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.