British nurse Pauline Cafferkey appeared to have beaten the Ebola virus ten months ago when she was released from the hospital after contracting the virus working as a volunteer health worker in Sierra Leone. Last week, however, the Scottish nurse was readmitted to a London hospital with what was then being described as an “unusual late complication.” On Wednesday, with Cafferkey critically ill, doctors determined the source of her illness was no longer a complication, but that she had relapsed and was again stricken with Ebola.
Cafferkey’s relapse, along with uncertainty about her prognosis and what it may mean for thousands of other Ebola survivors, serves as a reminder of how little is known about the virus that ripped through Western Africa claiming more than 10,000 lives. It is not immediately clear why Cafferkey is again grappling with the virus after appearing to have beaten it, as thousands of others have in Africa, the U.S., and Europe. “Speculation has focused on the potential role of Ms. Cafferkey’s severe initial illness, and even on the experimental treatments she and the few other patients treated in Western hospitals received,” the New York Times reports.
“Since her January discharge, Cafferkey has been out and about, including receiving a Pride of Britain award late last month and paying a visit to 10 Downing Street, where pictures showed her with the prime minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron,” CNN reports. “Last week Dr. Emilia Crighton, director of public health for the National Health Service for Greater Glasgow and Clyde, insisted that the risk of the 39-year-old Cafferkey inadvertently passing on Ebola to anyone else was ‘very low.’” Even still, British health authorities have identified 58 people who have been in close contact with Cafferkey since she again became symptomatic and offered the Ebola vaccine to those who had come into contact with her bodily fluids.