A Scottish nurse who recovered from Ebola nearly a year ago is now critically ill, the Royal Free Hospital in London said Wednesday.
“We are sad to announce that Pauline Cafferkey’s condition has deteriorated and she is now critically ill,” the hospital said in a statement Wednesday. “Pauline is being treated for Ebola in the high level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital.”
Cafferkey contracted the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone in December 2014 and was released in January after making a full recovery. Ten months later, she was rehospitalized on Oct. 7 “due to an unusual late complication of her previous infection by the Ebola virus,” the hospital added.
Health officials are still learning about the long-term effects of the virus. Scientists have known that the Ebola virus can persist in the body longer than previously believed. According to a CDC study published Wednesday, Ebola can persist in semen for up to nine months. Previously, the window was believed to be three months.
Dr. Ian Crozier, an American health care worker who contracted the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone, eventually was told he was cured of the disease. Fewer than two months later, the virus was found in his eye.
“It’s reminded people that the consequences go on so much longer for survivors,” Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization told The New York Times. “It’s really spurred concern we make sure the needs of these people aren’t lost.”
But in Cafferkey’s case, it’s not exactly a reemergence of Ebola, but the health complications that arise when the virus has been lingering in the survivor’s body. The virus wrecked Cafferkey’s central nervous system, experts told the Times.
Aylward said traces of Ebola were found in Cafferkey’s spinal fluid. The CDC has also stressed that Cafferkey’s case is rare and doesn’t pose a threat to the health of others.
“The huge concern everyone has is that this does not result in a new wave of stigmatization of survivors, because of course it’s a very, very different risk, a personal risk,” Aylward told the Times.