American doctor declared free of Ebola finds the virus in his eye months later

Updated 11:23 PM EDT, Fri May 8, 2015
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Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital on August 30, 2014 in Monrovia. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET        (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital on August 30, 2014 in Monrovia. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
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A health worker, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and a woman pose on September 7, 2014 inside the high-risk area at Elwa hospital in Monrovia, which is run by the non-governmental  international organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders -- MSF). US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired on September 7 the US military would help in the fight against fast-spreading Ebola in Africa, but warned it would be months before the epidemic slowed. The tropical virus, transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has killed 2,100 people in four countries since the start of the year -- more than half of them in Liberia.   AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET        (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Finding highlights a need for eye checkups for Ebola survivors

A few people are still infected with Ebola each week

(CNN) —  

Over nearly two years, more than 28,000 people, a population larger than the size of Key West, Florida, have fought Ebola infections.

At the time, his eyes were the least of his worries.

“There were lots of things sort of higher on the food chain,” he told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” “I was struggling to learn to walk again.”

But not long after, mild burning and light sensitivity afflicted his eyes.

Less than two months later, he was back at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta; testing showed the virus was still living in his eye.

Perplexed

His case has left doctors stunned and highlighted the need for eye checkups for Ebola survivors.

Crozier, 44, was hospitalized at Emory University Hospital for more than a month in September after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone, where he worked at a hospital.

At the time, the hospital said he was the sickest of all the four Ebola patients treated there.

Crozier was discharged in October, and about two months later, he developed eye problems and returned to Emory. Doctors stuck a needle in his eye and removed some fluid, which tested positive for the virus.

At the time, Crozier thought the problems were “an immune-related Ebola complication,” but nothing to do with the return of the virus.

“We certainly didn’t think it was related to active and replicating virus in the eye,” Crozier said. “As my sight started to go bad, it became clear that this was a very different animal.”

No risk of spreading the virus

Despite the presence of the virus in the eye, samples from tears and the outer eye membrane tested negative, which means the patient was not at risk of spreading the disease during casual contact, Emory said in a statement Thursday.

It did not name Crozier, but The New York Times did. The New England Journal of Medicine also released a study on the case. Crozier and Dr. Steven Yeh, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine who helped treat him, were both listed as authors of the study.

Though the patient was not at risk of spreading the virus, all health care providers treating survivors, including eye doctors, must follow Ebola safety protocols, said Jay Varkey, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine.

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Ebola patient for a second time

When the virus was found in Crozier’s eye, the eye started losing its original blue hue. It turned green.

Bewildered, doctors tried different forms of treatment as he relived his Ebola nightmare.

They gave him steroids and an antiviral agent (which required special approval from the Food and Drug Administration, according to the Times.)

His eye gradually returned to normal, but doctors are not sure whether it was as a result of the steroid shot, pill or his body’s immune system.

While Ebola survivors in West Africa have reported eye problems, it’s unclear how prevalent the condition is and how often it happens. Emory advises that Ebola patients should be monitored for the development of eye symptoms like pain, redness, light sensitivity and blurred vision.

Crozier said he hopes his case will bring light to the enormous challenges Ebola survivors face.

“You can imagine an Ebola survivor who’s already been through their own personal hell,” he said. “And as they emerge from that place, to then in a sense face the tragedy of going blind; it’s a story that we must pay attention.”

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Epidemic slowly fading

Over the past year, about 25,000 people have fought Ebola infections. More than 10,000 have died, mostly in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The initial dire predictions that there would be over a million infections by January never came true. The intensity of the largest Ebola epidemic in history has died down.

The latest World Health Organization Report said there were no confirmed cases of Ebola the week of October 11. It was the second consecutive week with zero confirmed cases.

But as the number of new cases plummet, many unknowns remain on the aftereffects of the virus.

Read this: Why Bill Gates is wrong about Ebola