(TheBlaze/AP) — An American doctor working in the thick of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last year came down with the virus and was evacuated to Atlanta for treatment. He overcame the disease, but despite there being no detectable virus in his blood, two months after he was considered cured, he felt something in his eye.
Dr. Ian Crozier, 43, was diagnosed with Ebola in September while working with the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone. He was released from Emory University Hospital in October, but two months later, he developed inflammation and very high blood pressure in one eye, which causes swelling and potentially serious vision problems.
"The eye felt dead to me," Crozier told the New York Times.
He returned to Emory, where ophthalmologist Dr. Steven Yeh drained some of the fluid and had it tested for Ebola. The virus was found in the fluid, but not in his tears or tissue around the outside of his eye.
Perhaps most surprising, the virus also appeared to have temporarily changed the color of his infected eye from blue to green.
"I’ve been doing what I do for 40 years and I’ve never seen such a reversibility," Dr. C. Stephen Foster with Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution told the Times.
From Crozier's perspective, the color change was "like an assault."
"It was so personal," he told the newspaper.
This marks the first time, Ebola has been discovered inside the eye of a patient months after the virus was gone from his blood.
Ebola has infected more than 26,000 people since December 2013 in West Africa. Some survivors have reported eye problems but how often they occur isn't known. The virus also is thought to be able to persist in semen for several months even after it is no longer detected in a person's blood.
This more recent finding, presented as a case report in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that casual contact with an Ebola survivor poses no public health risk, but shows that survivors need to be monitored for the eye problem, Yeh said.
Crozier has not fully recovered, his vision but continues to improve, Yeh said.
Foster told the Times that eye color changes, though rare, are known to happen when cells in the iris are killed by a virus. In Crozier's case, he thinks the cells weren't killed but damaged, which is why his original color came back.
Dr. Jay Varkey, an Emory infectious disease specialist, said those involved in Crozier's care wore recommended protective gear and monitored themselves for Ebola symptoms for several weeks afterward as a precaution.
Doctors also discussed the case at an Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology conference in Denver Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, the World Health Organization said that the number of Ebola cases reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone last week dropped to its lowest total this year. And Liberia, which has seen the most deaths in the outbreak — more than 4,700 — plans to declare the outbreak officially over in the country on Saturday, unless new cases are discovered.
Front page image via Shutterstock.