Ebola Doctor: ‘You Can’t Put Out 99% of a Fire’

Ebola Doctor: ‘You Can’t Put Out 99% of a Fire’

Oct. 16, 2015 — Though the numbers show we’ve reached a turning point in the Ebola outbreak, the threat of the virus is far from gone.

A nurse from Scotland is fighting for her life a second time after her Ebola infection apparently relapsed. And two new studies published Monday in The New England Journal of Medicine highlight a rare but real risk of men who’ve recovered spreading the disease through sex months after a blood test doesn’t turn up signs of the virus.

The first study looks at a man who survived the disease and apparently passed it to his female partner more than 6 months after he recovered. A second study found traces of the virus in the semen of about 25% of tested male survivors at least 9 months after the onset of symptoms.

The disheartening news comes amid brighter news regarding the Ebola outbreak. The WHO this month marked 2 weeks without new cases in the hardest-hit West African countries — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — before two new cases were reported in Guinea on Friday. The week of Oct. 4 was the first with no new reported cases since the outbreak was declared in March 2014, the WHO says.

The persistence of the virus continues to surprise infectious disease doctors and Ebola survivors, many of whom are still struggling with lingering after-effects of the disease.

“It’s not over even when it’s over, and that’s particularly going to be true for those who have survived the most severe disease,” says Ian Crozier, MD, an infectious disease expert who won a long battle against the virus, only to have it come back 2 months later to nearly blind one of his eyes.

We asked Crozier and another infectious disease expert, Philip Smith, MD, director of the biocontainment unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, about what the persistence of the virus means for ending the outbreak and for those who have survived.

WebMD: Dr. Smith, you treated two Ebola survivors — Dr. Rick Sacra, a medical volunteer in Liberia who worked for the Christian organization SIM, and Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman for NBC. Do you continue to follow them? Do they continue to have health problems?

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