Monrovia – Health officials confirmed on Friday three cases of Ebola in Liberia, even though the country was recently declared free of the lethal virus. The source of the new outbreak remains unclear and more than 150 people have been placed under surveillance.
“We have three confirmed cases and have listed 153 contacts, and we have labeled them as high, medium and low in terms of the risk,” as told to Reuters by Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francis Kateh.
The first case was confirmed on Thursday, as a 15-year-old boy named Nathan Gbotoe suffering from Ebola symptoms –bleeding and fever- was tested positive. Then, his eight-year-old brother and father were also found positive and all three have been taken to isolation in a specialized Ebola treatment unit located in the capital Monrovia.
Health workers have been disinfecting Gbotoe’s house and arranging hand-washing stations at his school. The rest of his family, who live in Paynesville, a suburb east of Monrovia, are awaiting test results, as well as neighbors who have had contact with them. Before he was diagnosed, the boy was admitted to a hospital in the capital, where some medical staff treated him without any protective equipment. All of them are among the patients who have been put under surveillance.
Kateh said investigations about the source of the virus’ resurgence are being carried out. Guinea has no cases, while Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free this month, which makes cross-border transmission implausible. On the other hand, the previous outbreak in the country is thought to have come through sexual transmission, as the virus can remain in the semen of male survivors for a nine-month period after infection. Another possible explanation might be an infected animal triggering a chain of transmission.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been over 10,600 cases only in Liberia and the entire outbreak, concentrated also in Sierra Leone and Guinea, has led to more than 11,300 deaths. Liberia has set the record of the highest number of losses, as nearly 5,000 people have died from the disease in that country.
The WHO has twice declared the nation Ebola-free, the first time in May and again on September 3rd. Liberia’s’ Health Minister Bernice Dahn said more cases are expected to emerge, as she knows how the virus can quickly spread. Even though the medical staff has gained significant expertise in treating new cases and preventing future spread, Dahn stressed that they must stay vigilant and work together.