ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A Scottish nurse who recovered from Ebola January is back in a hospital isolation ward in London. Doctors say she's suffering an unusual late complication from her previous Ebola infection. Health officials in Scotland say they're monitoring the health of a small number of her close contacts as a precaution. But they say they believe the risk to the general public is very low. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports the case raises questions about the conventional wisdom of when exactly survivors are Ebola-free.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Pauline Cafferkey came down with Ebola in December of last year. She'd been volunteering as a nurse at an Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone, and she got sick soon after returning to the U.K. Cafferkey was the first recorded Ebola case on British soil. Although she became critically ill, she made a full recovery. In late January, she was declared free of the virus and released from an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Now she's back in that same isolation ward. Dr. Aneesh Mehta, who's part of a team of doctors at Emory University that treated four Ebola patients during the recent outbreak, says this current case is quite surprising.
ANEESH MEHTA: If it truly does turn out that she does have Ebola 10 months without any further exposures, that's surprising to us and, I believe, would be the first time that we've ever found a relapsed case of Ebola.
BEAUBIEN: Officials at the Royal Free Hospital this morning released only a few details about Cafferkey's case but did state that she's in serious condition. Mehta at Emory says the virus is capable of lingering in some patients long after they've recovered. The two main reservoirs are the testicles and the eyes, but his team has only seen this happen in men.
MEHTA: We had two female patients here. There has been no persistent site of Ebola found in the female patients that we've taken care of, nor have we heard from any of our other colleagues that they have found any sites of persistence in any women.
SANDRO GALEA: I think the case shows two things. Number one is that there is a lot we don't understand about this particular disease.
BEAUBIEN: That's Sandro Galea, the dean of the School of Public Health at Boston University.
GALEA: Secondly is that diseases like Ebola can have reservoirs that last much longer than we previously anticipated.
BEAUBIEN: If the Ebola virus is capable of hanging out inside survivors and then re-emerging, this could have major implications in West Africa. There are almost 20,000 Ebola survivors in the region. Liberia has already had at least one fatal case of sexually transmitted latent Ebola. That transmission occurred six months after the original patient had been declared Ebola-free. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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