The seemingly interminable outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has begun to ravage new territory. This week, the nation of Mali recorded its official second death due to the virus and has announced it is closely monitoring up to 200 others suspected of being exposed to the disease.
Mali recorded its first case of Ebola in October–a two-year-old girl who had contracted the virus in Guinea. Due in large part to aggressive contact tracing, the government of Mali managed to find and quarantine anyone who came into contact with the girl, preventing more such cases. Mali was close to being declared Ebola-free this week when a second “patient zero” arrived in the nation and died.
This second patient, reports The New York Times, was an imam who died in October in Bamako, Mali, after arriving from Guinea. He was not targeted as an Ebola case, as the cause of death was cited as “kidney failure.” His remains were washed and returned to Guinea, as per Muslim tradition. This has exposed an undetermined number of people in Mali to the virus, and there has not yet been confirmation via testing that the patient died of Ebola.
Nonetheless, Mali is moving fast. At least four people with ties to the imam, whose name is being withheld, have died under suspicion of having contracted Ebola. Reuters reports that over 200 people who came in contact with either the imam himself or other confirmed victims, or who visited the mosque in which his remains were handled, will be monitored. One of the four confirmed Ebola deaths in Mali is a woman who helped wash his body for burial. Two other cases are known, and a third–another girl–is suspected to have died from Ebola, though this has not been confirmed. While the Malian Health Ministry puts the number of people monitored at 200, the World Health Organization told Reuters closer to 250 people are being watched.
The news comes just as Liberia, one of the nation’s hardest hit by this Ebola outbreak, officially ended its state of emergency in response to the outbreak. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced Friday that certain emergency measures implemented to limit the spread of the virus were no longer necessary. She did emphasize, however, that this did not signal the end of the outbreak, but merely a reduction in the number of cases in areas most affected or potentially most dangerous, such as the densely populated neighborhoods of Monrovia. While the acceleration pace of viral contamination has slowed in much of Monrovia, Ebola has begun to enter previously untouched communities, restarting the contact tracing and healthcare process for the Liberian government.