U.K. Ebola nurse has meningitis caused by persisting Ebola, doctors say

A Scottish nurse who contracted and initially recovered from Ebola, but then suffered a relapse, has meningitis caused by the virus in her brain, doctors treating her said on Wednesday.

The Ebola virus re-emerged around the brain and spinal column to cause meningitis

British nurse Pauline Cafferkey speaks during a January 2014 interview in London. Cafferkey, who apparently recovered from Ebola, is now ill with complications in her brain, doctors say. (Reuters)

A Scottish nurse who contracted and initially recovered from Ebola, but then suffered a relapse, has meningitis caused by the virus in her brain, doctors treating her said on Wednesday.

Pauline Cafferkey was not reinfected with the Ebola virus, doctors said, but it had persisted in her body since her initial recovery and re-emerged to cause complications in her brain.

"The virus re-emerged around the brain and around the spinal column to cause meningitis," said Michael Jacobs, an infectious diseases consultant who has been treating Cafferkey in London.

Cafferkey was transferred from the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow to an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London on Oct. 9 and was last week described by her doctors as critically ill.

Jacobs said on Wednesday that she had made a "significant improvement" and was talking and eating a little, but still faced a long recovery and would remain in hospital for now.

Gilead Sciences said in a release Wednesday it fulfilled a request for compassionate access to GS-5734, a investigational compound to treat Ebola.

"The request was received last week and [the] drug was shipped later the same day. The compound is currently being provided to a female patient in the United Kingdom, as described earlier today by officials from the Royal Free Hospital in London," the company said.

The investigational compound has not been proven safe and effective to treat Ebola and its clinical effect in Cafferkey's case cannot be determined.

The Ebola virus is known to be able to persist in various tissues in the body after it has cleared the bloodstream, but scientists are only now starting to find out more about how long it can survive and where, whether and when it might re-emerge.

Asked if Cafferkey posed a contagion risk, Jacobs stressed that her current illness was very different from the Ebola haemorrhagic fever she had in December 2014, with the virus far less likely to be shed and spread to others.

"The infection risk is completely different," he said. "But we can't call it zero, so we're taking a precautionary approach."

With files from CBC News

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