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Ebola Returns to Liberia: Two Dead, Hundreds Under Surveillance

Two months after being declared Ebola-free, the west African nation of Liberia has confirmed the death of a boy who succumbed to the virus, forcing the government to quarantine his family and place hundreds under surveillance.

Nathan Gbotoe, identified as being either ten or fifteen years old according to various local reports, died Monday night following a positive diagnosis of Ebola on Thursday. The Gbotoe family lives in the outskirts of Monrovia, the nation’s capital, and reports dispute how many confirmed cases among them there are. Nigeria’s Today reports two, while the Liberian Observer says officials have confirmed only a second case: the boy’s father, Nathan, Sr.

The Observer notes that reports say fourteen Gbotoe family members have been quarantined and 153 people are “under surveillance” for symptoms of the virus. “At least ten” health workers have also been quarantined after coming into contact with Gbotoe, and the Observer claims to have inside sources who can confirm that the victim’s mother and a number of other relatives are showing “very clear” signs that they have contracted Ebola.

Liberia has called upon the World Health Organization to deploy experts to the area to help contain the new outbreak. News reports from Liberia all report there is no evidence that medical officials know the source of this outbreak, though some suspect Nathan Gbotoe had contact with an Ebola survivor who could still pass on the virus. “In some people who have recovered from Ebola virus disease, the virus can persist in parts of the body the immune system cannot reach,” Liberia country representative for the U.N. World Health Organization Alex Gasasira told Reuters.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October found that the Ebola virus could, on some occasions, live up to nine months in the semen of male Ebola survivors, and often lived as long as six months. The study has been seen as a call to action for the World Health Organization, which declares nations Ebola-free following a 42-day period in which no new cases have been diagnosed. The WHO did precisely this in Liberia twice – on May 9 and on September 3 – and is now being forced to reset the clock once more.

The resurgence of Ebola in Liberia, where the official death toll hovers above 4,000 since the outbreak began in March 2014 there, has prompted panic in some medical sectors. Doctors say they fear those sick with other diseases will begin to fear receiving medical care once more, and there are some signs already that patients in need of blood donations are refusing them for fear that the blood carries Ebola. The Liberian Observer quotes Dr. Samson K. Arzoaquoi in Monrovia as stating that he has patients suffering from severe blood loss related to disease or accidents who are refusing blood and endangering their survival.

This particular incident highlights a greater problem with Ebola care in West Africa: many patients simply do not trust Western medical professionals, and instead turn to traditional herbalist healers who use magic to cure diseases. After months of attacks on medical convoys and outright rejection from locals, some international medical groups began working with the local healers to encourage them to raise awareness for Ebola prevention methods. “[Authorities] found out that avenues had been exhausted but still Ebola had not come to an end. So what are we going to do? The best thing we can do is call on our traditional healers, because we know our people, ,” explains Abdul Bangura of the Sierra Leone Indigenous Traditional Healers’ Union.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak continuing into today has taken lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, and the United States. With its resurgence in Liberia, the three core countries implicated all continue to have an active role in the outbreak.

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