Liberia Reports First Ebola Case in Weeks
By SHERI FINK and RICK GLADSTONEMARCH 20, 2015
A patient in Liberia has tested positive for the Ebola virus, health officials said Friday, more than two weeks after the last known case in the country had been discharged from the hospital.
The patient, a 44-year-old woman from the Caldwell area near Monrovia, the capital, first developed symptoms on March 15, said Dr. Moses Massaquoi for the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Liberia and national case manager of the Ebola response.
She was seen in a triage area run by Doctors Without Borders and transferred to a specialized Ebola treatment unit for testing, and the initial results came back positive on Friday, the doctor said in a telephone interview.
To date, Dr. Massaquoi said, there is no history of the patient having traveled abroad. Six people who came into contact with the woman from the time she became sick have been identified, and others were being sought.
Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations special envoy in charge of the international effort to combat the disease, was informed of the new case by officials in Liberia while traveling in Italy. He expressed disappointment but not surprise.
“We will have unfortunately some periods in which our hopes are dashed at this stage in the outbreak,” he said in a telephone interview. “That’s just the way it is. That’s why we’re going to have to keep going without any kind of letup until the very end.”
Dr. Nabarro and his colleagues have been emphasizing in recent weeks that the number of new cases in the Ebola zone — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — must be reduced to zero before they can declare the threat to be over.
The number of new cases has declined sharply since last fall, when hundreds were becoming infected every week in all three countries. Liberia has made the most progress in reducing the risks of transmission.
On March 5, what was thought to have been Liberia’s last known patient was discharged from the hospital, a celebratory moment that raised optimism the country would soon be declared free of Ebola. For that designation, countries must wait 42 days from when the last patient tests negative.
“We knew something like this could possibly happen, so we have all the necessary setup in place to address it,” Dr. Massaquoi said. Still, he said, “Today has not been a good day for us.”
Liberia’s comeback from the worst of the crisis has been considered a model of community organizing, which raised public awareness of the risks of transmission through physical contact and unsafe burials of the dead, who remain highly contagious. Liberia also has been a leader in identifying all known contacts of Ebola victims, enabling health officials to monitor who might be at risk.
“It just proves that until we have complete zero cases in the region, in the entire region, it will be difficult to defend an Ebola-free place,” Dr. Massaquoi said.
The news from Liberia came a few days after an Ebola setback was reported in Guinea.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that 95 new cases of Ebola had been confirmed in Guinea in the week that ended last Sunday, the highest weekly total for that country so far this year.
Last week, in another setback, two health workers, from the United States and Britain, were diagnosed with Ebola in Sierra Leone and evacuated for treatment at specialized facilities in their home countries.
I am not surprised and I am saddened. April is a dark month for Liberia, for its history. Hoped-for Ebola Eradication Day on April 13th was a much-looked-forward-to opportunity to end an unprecedented crisis and change the history and energy of April here in this country… May God bless the people and country of Liberia as they continue to deal with ebola and all its ramifications… So much hope and joy – now dashed…
Prayers please ~ Deborah