A 15-year-old boy has died of Ebola in Liberia, the first such fatality for months in a country declared free of the disease in September, chief medical officer Francis Kateh said on Tuesday.
Nathan Gbotoe tested positive last week and died late Monday in a hospital near Monrovia, the capital. The boy’s father and brother are also being treated for Ebola in the same hospital, officials said.
Health officials have identified nearly 160 people who might be at risk of being infected with the disease, including eight health-care workers "who are at high risk because they came in direct contact with the boy," said Sorbor George, a spokesman for the country's health ministry.
An additional 25 healthcare workers are being monitored, of which 10 are identified as high-risk, Kateh said.
Health officials are investigating the source of the virus, and Liberia has requested the assistance of two experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gbotoe visited several health centers before being referred to an Ebola treatment unit. Several health workers who cared for him may have not worn protective equipment, said Carissa Guild, a representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a health charity.
"Normally with a surveillance system, if someone has signs and symptoms [of Ebola] they would not be hospitalized but immediately sent to an Ebola treatment center to be tested,” said Guild. "There were no cases for a while, and Liberia was nearing the end of a 90-day period of heightened surveillance. It is quite possible that people were tired and got complacent."
The World Health Organization (WHO) has twice declared the West African nation to be Ebola-free, once on May 9 and again on Sept. 3. Liberia's last Ebola death was in July.
More than 11,300 people have died of the virus since the latest outbreak was announced in March 2014. Of the three countries hardest hit, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free on Nov. 7 and Guinea started its own countdown to zero on Nov. 16. Over 4,800 people died of Ebola in Liberia, according to WHO figures.
The WHO's failure to sound the alarm until months into the outbreak was an "egregious failure" which added to the enormous suffering and death toll, a panel of global health experts said on Monday.