Liberia has confirmed a new case of Ebola, officials announced Friday, undermining growing hopes in the country that it might soon be declared free of the disease.
Once the center of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, Liberia has recorded more than 9,000 cases of the virus and 3,947 deaths. However, when the country’s last known Ebola patient was discharged from a clinic in Monrovia on March 5, it looked like Liberia might be on its way to being declared “Ebola-free”.
Now, though, Liberian health officials have confirmed that a woman who was taken into a treatment center in Monrovia on Thursday has tested positive for the virus.
Liberia’s Acting Head of the Ebola Incident Management Team, Dr. Francis Kateh, told the Associated Press he was concerned that it had not been possible to establish how the woman became infected, as health workers had run out of “contacts” to pursue.
Health authorities look to isolate anyone with whom a patient has been in contact and who may be carrying the disease, but the new patient doesn’t appear to be linked to anyone on an Ebola contact list, Dr. Kateh said. He said they now intend to investigate whether the woman had traveled abroad.
The government had hoped to declare the country Ebola-free next month. Countries must wait 42 days from when the last patient tests negative to be declared free of the virus. This represents double the length of the virus’ incubation period.
Still, even when it is declared free of Ebola, Liberia can hardly afford to relax if its neighbors still harbor the disease. Ebola spread in Guinea for four months before it crossed the border to Liberia, launching the epidemic that has so far claimed 10,236 lives.