The prevalence of Post-Ebola Syndrome hearing loss, Sierra Leone

BMC Infect Dis. 2022 Jul 18;22(1):624. doi: 10.1186/s12879-022-07604-y.


Background: Globally, hearing loss is the second leading cause of disability, affecting approximately 18.7% of the world's population. However, the burden of hearing loss is unequally distributed, with the majority of affected individuals located in Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Following the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak, disease survivors began to describe hearing loss as part of the constellation of symptoms known as Post-Ebola Syndrome. The goal of this study was to more fully characterize hearing loss among Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) survivors.

Methodology and principal findings: EVD survivors and their household contacts were recruited (n = 1,12) from Eastern Sierra Leone. Each individual completed a symptom questionnaire, physical exam, and a two-step audiometry process measuring both air and bone conduction thresholds. In comparison to contacts, EVD survivors were more likely to have complaints or abnormal findings affecting every organ system. A significantly greater percentage of EVD survivors were found to have hearing loss in comparison to contacts (23% vs. 9%, p < 0.001). Additionally, survivors were more likely to have bilateral hearing loss of a mixed etiology. Logistic regression revealed that the presence of any symptoms of middle or inner ear (p < 0.001), eye (p = 0.005), psychiatric (p = 0.019), and nervous system (p = 0.037) increased the odds of developing hearing loss.

Conclusions and significance: This study is the first to use an objective and standardized measurement to report hearing loss among EVD survivors in a clinically meaningful manner. In this study it was found that greater than 1/5th of EVD survivors develop hearing loss. The association between hearing impairment and symptoms affecting the eye and nervous system may indicate a similar mechanism of pathogenesis, which should be investigated further. Due to the quality of life and socioeconomic detriments associated with untreated hearing loss, a greater emphasis must be placed on understanding and mitigating hearing loss following survival to aid in economic recovery following infectious disease epidemics.

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Hearing Loss* / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / complications
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology
  • Survivors* / statistics & numerical data