News Releases

Media contact:  Leigh DeLozier, 404-778-3711, leigh.delozier@emory.edu

November 6, 2017

 

Team photo Quiet Eye project

L to R: Emory Eye Center team with Dr. Yeh, Dr. Shantha, Dr. Faiqa Ibrahim (World Health Organization), Dr. Ian Crozier (World Health Organization), Dr. Colleen Kraft (Infectious Disease) and Dr. Hayek at the Lowell and Ruth Gess Eye Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone (Photo Credit: Courtesy Andrew Gess)

New York Times and BBC Radio highlight Emory Eye Center physicians’ work with Ebola virus disease survivors

(ATLANTA) The West African Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak from 2013-2016 was unprecedented in its magnitude, with more than 28,600 cases and 11,300 deaths reported. For the estimated 17,000 Ebola survivors within the West Africa region, eye disease that can lead to blindness continues to be a major concern.

Ebola eye image normal vs vasculitis
Eye in Ebola patient before and after uveitis detected.

Emory Eye Center ophthalmologists first became involved with Ebola patient care when survivor Dr. Ian Crozier came to Emory for treatment following his diagnosis in 2015. Later that year, Crozier developed severe, sight-threatening uveitis, an inflammatory disease that affects the eye and can lead to pain, eye redness, and vision loss. Dr. Steven Yeh of Emory Eye Center discovered live Ebola virus in Crozier’s ocular fluid. He and Dr. Jessica Shantha worked with physicians from the Emory University Serious Communicable Disease Unit to successfully treat Crozier.

Since that time, the team of Yeh, Shantha, Crozier, and Emory Eye Center oculoplastics specialist Dr. Brent Hayek have traveled to Sierra Leone numerous times to investigate and to care for Ebola survivors. They’ve found that many survivors have developed uveitis at an alarming rate: about 20 to 25% of Ebola survivors will develop the condition. In addition, approximately 40% of these patients have experienced vision impairment or blindness because of poor access to health care.

Many Ebola survivors also develop cataracts (i.e. clouding of the lens inside the eye, which focuses light on the retina) and thus require cataract surgery to restore their sight. Because live Ebola virus could potentially persist in ocular fluid, cataract surgery carries a high risk of Ebola exposure to those who perform the surgery.

Emory Eye Center physicians are helping address this critical question. They designed a study (the Ebola Virus Persistence in Ocular Tissues and Fluids [EVICT] study) to perform ocular fluid sampling or “taps” in the eyes of survivors needing cataract surgery (first reported at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in May 2017). Over the past 18 months, approximately 50 “taps” have been performed on the eye fluid of survivors in Sierra Leone, with no live Ebola virus identified. Negative test results allowed many Ebola survivors to have cataract surgery and regain their vision.

A recent New York Times article “Ebola’s Legacy: Children with Cataracts” details the individual stories and treatment of pediatric Ebola survivors who developed uveitis or cataracts. The stories were gathered by a NYT reporter and photographer who accompanied the EVICT study team to Sierra Leone in the summer of 2017.

BBC World Service Radio also interviewed Yeh and Shantha for more details about their work with pediatric Ebola survivors.

“Now that their Ebola virus disease is gone, now that their uveitis is gone, we’re finding that many of these patients have significant cataracts that are impairing their vision,” Shantha explained during the interview. “These aren’t the standard white cataracts; these uveitic cataracts are especially dense and thick. We don’t know why that is or what causes it to be that way.”

The question of how and why these uveitic cataracts form in EVD survivors is one more area that Emory physicians and others will explore as they continue to treat these patients. They also continue to gather resources and funding support that will help Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone and throughout West Africa receive the vision care they need – including restoring their sight.

 

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Support this urgent and ongoing work with your donations through Emory Online Giving or by contacting Karla Ruggiero, Emory Eye Center’s director of development.

 

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The Emory Eye Center is the largest, most comprehensive eye care facility in Georgia, serving patients for more than 125 years. With programs in cornea, retina (surgical and medical), glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics, ophthalmic pathology and pediatric ophthalmology, Emory Eye Center has long been one of the most sought-after training programs for ophthalmology subspecialties. Innovative treatments, groundbreaking research and personalized care have earned the Eye Center the respect of patients and providers alike. To learn more, visit www.eyecenter.emory.edu.

 

 

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