A SCOTTISH nurse who contracted Ebola in West Africa last year has made a “significant improvement” as doctors revealed she had nearly died from meningitis linked to the virus she contracted while working as a volunteer in Sierra Leone.
Pauline Cafferkey, from Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, has been fighting for her life at London’s Royal Free Hospital after being admitted earlier this month with a late complication of Ebola.
The 39-year-old is now able to talk, use her iPad and eat a little and doctors hope she will make a full recovery.
Dr Michael Jacobs, infections consultant at the Royal Free, told a press conference yesterday that the virus had re-emerged to cause meningitis and was contained in her brain and spinal fluid.
He said: “This is the original Ebola virus she had many months ago which has been inside the brain, replicating at a very low level, and has now re-emerged to cause this clinical illness of meningitis.”
He described the situation as “unprecedented” and said it was a “completely different” type of Ebola than had been seen by medical staff previously.
Ebola is known to linger in some body tissues including the eye, testes and spinal column but scientists are still trying to establish how long it can persist.
During Ms Cafferkey’s previous admission to the hospital in January the virus was contained in her blood, and was affecting multiple organs, which made it more contagious, said Dr Jacobs.
She is now being treated with an experimental drug known as GS5734, which is currently being trialled on humans.
Dr Jacobs said: “The question is: can we be sure that we can completely clear the virus? Over time we anticipate that the virus will be completely eradicated.
“Whether the anti-viral drug will contribute to that or not it’s hard to know at this stage whether it will be beneficial.”
Dr Daniel Bausch, of the World Health Organisation, moved to reassure people by saying Ms Cafferkey was the only known Ebola survivor to develop meningitis months later.
Health officials also confirmed no new contacts have been identified since it began monitoring 65 close contacts of Ms Cafferkey. All the Ebola tests carried out have come back negative and the risk to the public remains low, NHS Scotland said.
Ms Cafferkey was flown to the London hospital from Glasgow by military helicopter on 9 October after suffering what doctors described as a “late complication” from the virus.
She was previously described by doctors as being “critically ill” but condition was later updated to be “serious but stable”.