Confirmation of new Ebola infections in Liberia this week have brought back fears that another outbreak could run rampant in the West African country, but experts caution that the government and aid organizations are far more prepared now to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Officials from Liberia’s Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism confirmed today that two people had tested positive for Ebola, after a teenager died on Sunday of the disease. Both of the confirmed cases were in the same home as the 17-year-old boy when he died, officials said.
However, experts say the cases simply show that increased surveillance is working to stop the disease before it can spread widely. While the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free in May, it continued to practice heightened surveillance in the area.
Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for WHO’s Ebola response, said during heightened surveillance officials continued to swab dead bodies for the virus and bury them according to safe burial practices.
“It’s very disappointing,” Harris said of the virus’ return to Liberia. “The positive aspect is they did find this,” and they enacted a quarantine. The generally accepted incubation period for Ebola is 21 days.
Harris said hundreds of WHO staff remain in Liberia to help with both training new medical workers, maintaining surveillance of the area, and helping to ensure that medical centers have supplies like personal protective equipment for health workers.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the government appears to have implemented key precautions that will likely save lives, including safe burial practices and the quarantine of those exposed to the original patient. He explained it’s possible that more cases will be found as epidemiologists trace the source of the infection for the teenage patient.
“He’s the source,” Schaffner told ABC News. “We have to try to find out how he acquired his infection. Did it indeed come from Guinea or Sierra Leone? Or are there are sources in Liberia that have yet to be identified?”
Ebola cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone have continued to show up periodically since last year’s outbreak.
Schaffner also said it’s clear that the Liberian government has learned from the horrendous outbreak that began last year that lead to more than 10,000 infections in Liberia.
“The circumstance on the ground has matured a great deal,” Schaffner said. “Here we find the Ministry of Health being very open. The response has been very prompt.”
Source: ABC News – Health New Ebola Cases Spread Fear as Officials Race to Halt Outbreak