Sierra Leone confirmed a new Ebola case Friday, a day after the World Health Organization said the outbreak in West Africa was over.
The country’s government rapidly responded to the new case and a team is investigating its origin and trying to stop the virus from spreading, the WHO said in a statement.
Francis Langoba Kelly, spokesman for Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security, told local radio Friday that tests on a woman who died in the country’s north earlier this month were positive for the virus, the Associated Press reported. Kelly said the country’s level of preparedness is high and there is no cause for concern, according to the news agency.
“We are now at a critical period in the Ebola epidemic as we move from managing cases and patients to managing the residual risk of new infections,” Bruce Aylward, WHO’s special representative for Ebola response, said in a statement. “We still anticipate more flare-ups and must be prepared for them.”
Sierra Leone is in a 90-day period of enhanced surveillance following a declaration in November of the end of Ebola transmission in the country. The period is designed to ensure no hidden chains of transmission have been missed and to detect any new flare-ups of the disease.
The WHO stressed in its statement declaring the outbreak over on Thursday that the virus could return in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because it persists in survivors after they have recovered.
It was the first time since the epidemic began in December 2013 that all three nations had gone at least 42 days without new cases. Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free Nov. 7 and Guinea followed suit Dec. 29. Liberia has been declared Ebola-free twice before — most recently two months ago — only to see the virus re-emerge.
The virus killed a total of 11,315 people including 4,000 in Sierra Leone, and sickened nearly 29,000.
The WHO declares countries “Ebola-free” after 42 days. That’s because the typical incubation period for a new Ebola case is 21 days. To be on the safe side, the WHO waits for two incubation periods to pass before concluding an epidemic is over.
The sheer size of the West African outbreak — the largest in history — is challenging conventional wisdom about Ebola outbreaks, which in the past were relatively small.
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