How and why the Ebola virus keeps on coming back is a mystery that continues to puzzle experts. In a new report, investigators said the newest outbreak in Liberia may have originated from a survivor whose immune system was weakened by her pregnancy.

Health experts have been figuring out why Ebola re-emerged in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, three months after the country was declared virus-free for the second time.

Pregnancy And The Immune System

Investigations focused on the family of 15-year-old Nathan Gbotoe, the last patient who died from the disease on Nov. 24. Fingers were all pointed at Nathan but in the new surge of investigations, the spotlight has been shifted to his mother, Ophelia, 33.

Ophelia was diagnosed with Ebola more than a year ago. She contracted the virus from her brother who died, presumably from Ebola, in July 2014. She recovered and then got pregnant.

Pregnancy is said to cause virus-fighting antibodies to decline as delivery nears. The Ebola virus is believed to stay in a dormant state after an active infection, but can re-emerge once the immune system weakens.

The Ebola virus can be spread via contact with bodily fluids. The manner through which the virus was transmitted from Ophelia to her family remains unknown.

The main theory now is that Ophelia's pregnancy impaired her immune system, so her body wasn't able to prevent the virus from becoming active again. If this holds true, then the other survivors in West Africa - nearly 17,000 in total - are potential Ebola sources or reservoirs. With this to consider, stopping the spread of the virus will be extremely difficult and may take months or even years.

Jonathan Heeney from Cambridge, who has studied and written about human reservoirs of the virus, said affected nations all want to declare that they are disease-free but they require help with persistent surveillance and monitoring.

"If you turn your back on this, you will see more of these cases," he said.

Health Problems Among Survivors

Ebola survivors look like they would have to deal with the virus for quite some time. In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Dec. 17, researchers found that the Americans who got infected by Ebola experienced complications even after they recovered from the disease.

The patients experienced hair loss, eye problems and joint pain, among others. Senior author Dr. Timothy Uyeki from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Ebola survivors may have varying health problems with different degrees of severity and duration.

Uyeki said the study shows that for survivors, their ordeal with Ebola does not end with being discharged from a treatment unit or a hospital.

In the investigations, the experts were still not able to establish clearly how complications often develop, how long clinical manifestations last and whether or not the Ebola virus was the real cause of the symptoms experienced by U.S. survivors.

Photo: CDC Global | Flickr

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