By Edward K. Chapnick

Doctors and researchers don’t know a lot about Ebola, including why some people recover and others don’t. They’re starting to get some good ideas, though. For example, they know successful recovery depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response.

Some of the doctors reporting in from West Africa as they work with Doctors Without Borders say that quick diagnosis and treatment seems also to play a role in how well a patient recovers. If a patient can get in early and get treated (even in West Africa), she has a much better chance of survival.

The problem in West Africa is the sheer numbers. West African hospitals don’t have enough beds, and the ones they do have go to the sickest patients, which means there just isn’t room for people to get in early.

Another issue is that many patients in West Africa have to be treated in the field, in their homes, which means there is no access to all of those supportive treatments and therapies, like IVs.

Some other reports say the manner of transmission may also impact recovery. For example, needlestick cases seem to do worse than those who were infected via mucus membranes.

Individuals who no longer have signs and symptoms of Ebola virus disease can be discharged if they have two negative PCR tests on whole blood, separated by at least 48 hours.

Recovering from Ebola depends on factors such as the age and immune status of the patient, severity of illness, what treatment is given, and when it was initiated. The cases in the United States have seemed to last somewhere in the two- to three-week range.

People who recover from Ebola develop antibodies that last for at least ten years, possibly longer. Researchers don’t yet know if people who recover are immune for life or if they can become infected with a different species of Ebola. Researchers do know that some people who have recovered from Ebola have developed long-term complications, such as joint and vision problems.