Ebola Death Confirmed Hours After Outbreak Declared Over, 100 Quarantined

AP Photo/ Michael Duff
AP Photo/ Michael Duff

The government of Sierra Leone has quarantined more than 100 people after the body of a 22-year-old student tested positive for Ebola. The announcement arrived hours after the World Health Organization announced that the outbreak beginning in 2014 was officially over.

The victim, identified as Mariatu Jalloh, died two days before the official WHO declaration, and officials announced her cause of death on that day. The number of quarantined people is especially high in her case because of both her living situation and the way she received medical treatment and burial. She lived in a home with 22 people, Reuters reports, and officials identified five people who were involved in the traditional cleansing of a corpse before her burial. Officials have cited this practice of contact with dead bodies as a significant factor in how quickly the Ebola virus spread through West Africa in summer 2014. These 28 of the total of 109 people—those who lived with her and those involved in her burial—quarantined are considered “high-risk” cases.

Reuters notes that the announcement of the quarantine so shortly after the WHO declared the threat of Ebola had subsided triggered attacks on the homes of those quarantined. At least one home, described as a hut, was burned to the ground.

“A new case of Ebola has been confirmed in Sierra Leone, reflecting the ongoing risk of new flare-ups of the virus in affected countries,” the WHO announced in a statement, emphasizing the possibility of “flare-ups” continuing despite the outbreak officially having ended. In their initial announcement, WHO officials warned of such incidents. While this is an important milestone… the job is still not done,” WHO director of emergency risk assessment Rick Brennan said. “There is still ongoing risk of re-emergence of the disease because of persistence of the virus in a proportion of survivors.”

“The risk of re-introduction of infection is diminishing as the virus gradually clears from the survivor population, but we still anticipate more flare-ups and must be prepared for them,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s Special Representative for the Ebola Response, added.

AFK Insider, an African news outlet, claims medical professionals have recorded “10 other flare-ups” since the announcement.

As Sierra Leone continues to grapple with the virus itself, Guinea and Liberia—the two other nations hardest hit by the outbreak—are struggling to reconstruct critical infrastructure affected by the thousands of deaths in the wake of Ebola. Liberian officials are currently investigating reports of corruption within Ebola medical programs. Front Page Africa reports that a government audit found that local Red Cross offices had misdirected $1.8 million in Ebola funding within the past year, “with the local office unable to provide records for the expenditures undertaken.”