Ebola-free no more: Virus kills young Liberian

credit: CDC/flickr

Nearly two months after Liberia was declared Ebola free, the deadly virus is back. The dead body of a 17-year-old tested positive for Ebola, said deputy health minister and head of Liberia’s Ebola response, Tolbert Nyenswah.

There are no other reported cases for the time being. The West African nation achieved Ebola-free status on May 9. The World Health Organization said 42 days passed since the last official case. Neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone are nearing the end of their outbreaks, but have hit a few bumps along the road to zero.

The case in Liberia came as little surprise to authorities, said Nyenswah, to the Associated Press.

“We have said over and over again there was possibility that there could be a resurgence of the virus in Liberia,” he said. “But our surveillance teams, our capacity is very strong.”

Little information about the new case is known at the moment. The young man died on June 24 in the town of Nedowein, located 30 miles south of Monrovia. It is not near the borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea, but the Associated Press says it is close to an international airport.

Current efforts are under way to trace how he contracted Ebola and whether he may have spread it to other people.

“The only complication is that the person died before we tested the body as part of our surveillance system of testing living and dead people,” Nyenswah said.

Close to 30 contacts with the victim have already been identified. Front Page Africa reports that another suspected case, unrelated to the death, will be tested today. The World Health Organization said it is deploying staff to join the Liberian government’s investigation.

The Ebola outbreak that started in Guinea in December 2013 killed more than 11,000 people. It accelerated in mid-2014, leading to projections of death totals in the tens of thousands. Fortunately, the global response, led by local health workers, helped slow down the number of cases significantly over the fist few months of 2015.

The new case serves as a reminder that Liberia and its affected neighbors are doing better, but not yet in the clear.

“A new confirmed case in Liberia is unfortunate because Liberians have been very serious about maintaining prevention measures, like washing hands stations in public places. But hopefully their experience with the crisis puts them in a better position to contain transmission,” said Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, to the AP.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.