Two new cases of Ebola surfaced in Sierra Leone's northern Tonkolili District after a man died last week in the area where the deadly virus had been gone for months, an official said Monday, raising new fears of the epidemic's resurgence.
The victim contracted the disease in the capital, Freetown, and then traveled to his home village to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He was treated for a fever at the local hospital but authorities did not call the Ebola emergency number.
The two new cases are relatives of the man, said National Ebola Response Centre's OB Sisay on Sunday. Authorities moved quickly to contain the spread, but more cases are feared, he said. Following the death, authorities quarantined 500 people.
“We now know where the virus is and we are tracking its movement, by surrounding, containing and eradicating its last remaining chain of transmission,” Sisay said.
The concerns come as the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Tom Frieden, is in Sierra Leone to observe the impact of the Ebola outbreak and to assess steps needed to get the country to zero cases.
This Ebola outbreak has killed more than 11,200 people worldwide with nearly all deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Sierre Leone, 3,951 people have been killed, according to latest numbers from the CDC, out of a total of 13,387 cases. The organization no longer recommends against non-essential travel to Liberia, which was declared Ebola free in May, but it still discourages travelers from visiting Sierra Leone following the outbreak.
One hopeful avenue toward ending the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is an experimental vaccine tested on thousands of people in Guinea who were exposed to Ebola, according to interim results from a study published Friday in the Lancet website. The rVSV-vectored Ebola vaccine had a 100 percent success rate in a clinical trial involving 7,651 people, according to the Lancet report.
In some 4,000 people who received the vaccine within 10 days of being identified as an Ebola contact, there were no cases of the disease. That compared with 16 cases in more than 3,500 people who only got the shot after 10 days.
While health officials declared the end of the epidemic in Liberia in May, new cases keep emerging. Similarly, Sierra Leone's Northern Tonkolili District had not had a single case of Ebola in five months. The new case shows, however, how just one sick person can change that.
The victim’s family and friends buried him without following the special procedures required for Ebola victims to avoid spreading the disease. Ebola's main symptom is fever, which is also found in more common illnesses such as malaria and typhoid.
Al Jazeera and Reuters