Fear spreads with new Ebola death in Sierra Leone

Jan 15, 2016, 6:58 PM EST
Source: Simon Davis/DFID/flickr
Source: Simon Davis/DFID/flickr

A fresh case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, resulting in the victim's death, has many fearing that declaring the country and surrounding ones free of the virus was premature. A woman died of Ebola this week in Sierra Leone, and potentially exposed dozens of other people. A day before the victim’s death, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared that "all known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa" after Liberia joined Sierra Leone and Guinea in going six weeks with no reported new cases. Reuters reports: 

The WHO warned of the potential for more flare-ups, as survivors can carry the virus for months. But the new case in Sierra Leone is especially disquieting because authorities failed to follow basic health protocols, according to the report seen by Reuters.
Compiled by a humanitarian agency that asked not to be named, the document said the victim, Mariatu Jalloh, had come into contact with at least 27 people, including 22 in the house where she died and five who were involved in washing her corpse. But its account suggested others could also be at risk.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, who heads WHO's Ebola response efforts, said the woman was not buried safely because local health workers had not identified her as a suspected Ebola case. That raises the possibility there could be a wider Ebola outbreak.
"The world now is acutely aware that yes, this risk does continue," Aylward said. He called the announcement of Sierra Leone's latest case on Friday "unfortunate timing."
It's possible that the woman may have become infected by an Ebola survivor. In rare cases, the virus can be transmitted from survivors through sexual activity, because the virus can persist in the semen of male survivors for as long as a year, according to the WHO.
The woman might also have been exposed to a person who had a mild case of Ebola that wasn't known by authorities, Adalja said. In addition, there have been reports of Ebola survivors becoming contagious again, even after they were cured of the disease. It's suspected that a female Ebola survivor in Liberia became contagious again after she became pregnant, and passed the disease to her son, Reuters reported last month.