Ebola patient's strange symptom: His eye color changes

The Ebola virus can turn a person's blue eyes green, according to a study about an American physician who contracted the virus in Sierra Leone and then watched his eye color change.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
3 min read

The presence of the Ebola virus on American shores caused quite a panic in the tail end of 2014. It may have given media outlets a reason to use all sorts of eye-catching graphics to grab viewers' attention and give them yet another reason to never leave their homes again. However, it also brought a new understanding and awareness of the deadly disease that has ravaged large parts of West Africa.

Dr. Ian Crozier's left eye began to change color shortly after he was diagnosed with the Ebola virus. New England Journal of Medicine

One of the American doctors who contracted the disease during an aid visit to Sierra Leone had a long struggle with the virus, even after it almost took his life. Dr. Ian Crozier later learned while being treated in Emory University Hospital in Atlanta last October that the virus somehow changed his eye color from blue to green and still lingered in his eyes long after he left the hospital, according to The New York Times.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study on Thursday chronicling Crozier's unusual case titled "Persistence of Ebola Virus in Ocular Fluid during Convalescene."

Doctors first diagnosed Crozier with the virus in September of 2014 and transported him to Emory University Hospital to begin treatment. He experienced a litany of problems during his initial stay, including "multiorgan system failure," and had to spend 12 days on a ventilator followed by 24 days of dialysis. He also experienced an "altered mental status," "difficulty walking," "extreme fatigue" and many other debilitating symptoms, according to the NEJM.

The virus wreaked havoc on his eyes, as well. Ten days after his symptoms started, doctors said the pressure in his eye decreased significantly making it "doughy to the touch." Crozier, 44, also noticed after looking in a mirror that one of his eyes from had turned from blue to a very bright green. Doctors gave Crozier an experimental antiviral drug that required special approval from the Federal Drug Administration and injected a steroid into his eyeball in hopes the drug would move to his eyes. Fortunately, his eyesight and color returned to normal after just a few months, according to the Times article.

His problems didn't end when doctors found no trace of the virus in his blood or urine and he was allowed to leave the hospital. Months later, he began experiencing more trouble with his eyes, including blurred vision and redness. Ophthalmologist Dr. Steven Yeh of Emory's Eye Care Center assumed the virus attacked his immune system and just made him more susceptible to other viruses and infections.

Yeh was shocked to discover the presence of the Ebola virus in a fluid sample from deep within his eye. Not only was Yeh worried for Crozier but he also worried that he had been exposed to the virus. The New York Times reported that Yeh had to disinfect his examination room and spent three weeks in a guest room of his house to avoid possibly contaminating his family. Fortunately, the virus was not found in Crozier's tears, so he posed no risk of contamination to Yeh or anyone else he came into contact with following his hospital release.

Doctors don't know how the virus caused Crozier's eye color change, nor do they know how commonly ebola patients experience this symptom, but other viruses have been known to have a similar effect. Herpes is the most common example, with the resulting color change often a permanent one. However, don't think this means that if you're tired of your eye color that you should just get a virus to do it for you. There's already a procedure that will do almost the same thing without having to contract a horrible, painful and deadly disease.