Meet Nubia, the only baby known to have survived Ebola

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Meet Nubia, the only baby known to have survived Ebola

The lessons learnt from the care of this remarkable child could be used in the current outbreak in the DRC

Anne Gulland


The only baby known to have survived after being born to a mother with Ebola is now a thriving toddler, says one of the doctors who treated her.
Nubia, now two-and-a-half years old, was born in an Ebola treatment centre in Guinea in 2015 and was one of the country’s last patients in the 2014-15 epidemic that swept through West Africa, killing 11,000 people.
The lessons learnt from the care of this remarkable baby could be used in the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Séverine Caluwaerts, an obstetrician who was part of the team that cared for Nubia.
Shortly after being admitted to an Ebola treatment centre run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Nubia’s mother gave birth but died a few hours later. Nubia was born with congenital Ebola but in many ways the little girl, whose father named her after a Brazilian nurse caring for her, was lucky, said Caluwaerts.
“She was born right at the end of the epidemic when there were only two to three patients and 20 staff to care for them,” she said.
Nubia’s family also agreed that she should be given the experimental treatment ZMapp, as well as another drug which was so new that it did not have a name at the time.
“It was a desperate situation and we had the permission of the family to give an experimental compound to a baby who was only a few days old,” said Caluwaerts.
But while hi-tech modern medicine played a part in Nubia’s remarkable survival, the staff at the treatment centre also felt that “God was with us”.
Nubia received much love and care from the staff, and her family, and became something of a celebrity. After leaving the treatment centre she attended an MSF clinic for Ebola survivors and doctors are pleased to report she has made a complete recovery and is now a thriving toddler, said Caluwaerts.
Before Nubia, doctors thought that a baby whose mother contracted Ebola while pregnant could not survive the disease: “Nubia is a game changer. Before her, a baby had never survived congenital Ebola, but with Nubia this has changed.”
Caluwaerts told Nubia’s story at an MSF scientific meeting in London, where she shared research on pregnancy and Ebola survival during the West Africa outbreak. During that outbreak MSF managed nine treatment centres in the three affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – to which 77 pregnant women were admitted.
Pregnant women were as likely to survive Ebola as other women of reproductive age. And among the 77 pregnant women, 22 died while still pregnant and 52 either had miscarriages, stillbirths or their babies died shortly afterwards. Which makes Nubia's survival all the more remarkable.
Caluwaerts said that the authorities in the DRC caring for pregnant women with Ebola could learn from her research.As of May 26 there have been 56 cases of the disease in three areas in northwest DRC, including 25 deaths. The World Health Organisation has sent extra staff to control the outbreak in one area where the number of cases is increasing.
Caluwaerts and her research team found that women were more likely to survive if they contracted the disease in the first trimester of pregnancy; 75% survived compared with 53% in the second trimester and 35% in the last trimester. She said it was unclear why this was the case.
Doctors discovered that amniotic fluid tests positive for the disease up to 32 days after a woman has recovered and Caluwaerts said this had implications for healthcare workers treating women who either deliver a baby or miscarry, because they could become infected.
She said all women of reproductive age should have a pregnancy test and that women should give birth in an Ebola treatment centre and be cared for in a separate area.
Some women chose to terminate their pregnancies but workers at a treatment centre built a wooden hut, away from the main ward, for one woman who decided to keep her baby.
“This meant her family could still visit her while we kept her close to the treatment centre. She went into labour one month after her own convalescence. She delivered a stillborn baby but her amniotic fluid was still highly positive,” said Caluwaerts.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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