Liberia suffers new Ebola cases, 2.5 months after being declared free of disease

© James Giahyue
Liberia has suffered a setback in its fight to free itself of Ebola, after three fresh cases of the disease were recorded on Friday. The West African nation was declared Ebola-free on September 3.

A 10-year-old boy and two direct family members have tested positive for the deadly disease. The child lives in Paynesville, a suburb of the capital Monrovia, Liberian Health Minister Bernice Dahn said.

"The hospital is currently decontaminating the unit. All of the healthcare workers who came into contact with the patient have been notified," she told a news conference, according to Reuters.

"We know how Ebola spreads and we know how to stop Ebola but we must remain vigilant and work together," she said. 

The three patients, along with another three family members and other high-risk contacts, are being watched over and cared for at an Ebola Treatment Unit in Paynsville, Dahn added. 

Bruce Aylward, in charge of the Ebola response for the UN World Health Organization, says this is likely to be a fresh case of the disease appearing, as the patient did not have any contact with anyone infected with Ebola.

"The family obviously is at particular risk and is being investigated right now," he told a news conference in Geneva. He was speaking before it was known that two further family members had caught the disease.

Liberia has seen more than 10,600 people struck by Ebola. A total of 4,808 people have died of the virus, which was first established in March 2014, the WHO stated. 

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in October found that Ebola can continue to be detected in patients long after they have contracted the virus. Research carried out showed it can remain in some men’s semen for nine months or longer after they first showed symptoms.

“These results come at a critically important time, reminding us that while Ebola case numbers continue to plummet, Ebola survivors and their families continue to struggle with the effects of the disease,” said Aylward, in an October press release. 

Bruce Aylward added that the study provides further evidence that survivors need continuous and substantial support for the next six to 12 months to meet these challenges and to ensure their partners are not exposed.

The virus has killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Liberia was the first of the West African nations to be declared Ebola free on September 3, while Sierra Leone was declared free of the virus on November 7. Guinea has started its countdown to be free of the disease.

This countdown starts when the last patient produces a second negative test for Ebola. If no more cases are recorded within the next 42 days then the country can be declared free of the disease.