700 people in northern Sierra Leone have been quarantined, as the country, recently celebrating the discharge from the hospital of their last Ebola patient, diagnosed a 16-year-old girl with the disease.
The teen girl died on Sunday following her diagnosis, and hundreds who may have had contact with her or her family are under quarantine. The girl, identified as Kadiatu Thullah, is the first such case in the region in months. It is believed that she contracted the disease through sexual contact with an Ebola survivor, but the man believed to have given her the disease was pronounced Ebola-free in March, longer than the three months patients are typically told they are still contagious during.
“We are baffled by that possibility because the survivor in question was discharged in March, way beyond the 90-day period within which sexual transmission is said to be possible,” Emmanuel Conteh, regional Ebola response center head, told reporters.
The six-month time frame may be longer than even the new six-month deadline some medical professionals are trying to impose, as more and more such cases surface. Thullah is not believed to have left her village in years, reducing the possibility that she could have had contact with an Ebola carrier outside of her village.
“Seven of her primary contacts have been taken to the Ebola treatment unit,” Conteh noted. Her parents and close relatives are considered “high-risk” patients and are under medical watch, officials confirmed. Nearly 700 others are under quarantine; these, combined with those under quarantine still from an earlier case in another part of the country, total 1,524 people under quarantine in Sierra Leone.
The case before Thullah was also a woman, also believed to have contracted Ebola from sexual contact with a survivor. She was believed to have been the last Ebola patient in the country.
While the Ebola outbreak itself continues unabated, Sierra Leone has much more to rebuild than the health of those still testing positive. Studies on Ebola survivors are showing that many are suffering from longer-term physical ailments that appear to be an aftereffect of the infection. Many have lost their eyesight or suffer debilitating joint pain, which makes physical labor for agricultural or merchant jobs nearly impossible. About half of Ebola survivors are believed to have lost part of their eyesight, and scientists do not yet know whether the ailments are temporary or chronic.