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First Ebola patient in a month dies in Liberia

A Liberian woman who became the country's first Ebola patient in more than a month has died. Officials say two more people are suspected of having the virus, halting the country's plans to be Ebola-free by April.

Officials said 44-year-old Ruth Tugbeh had tested positive for Ebola on March 20 and died on Friday.

"The last Ebola case died yesterday. She did not make it," Francis Karteh, head of the Ebola Incident Management Team in Liberia told news agency AFP on Saturday.

"Beside that, we have no more confirmed cases now in the country. Only two suspected cases for now. We are surveying 80 persons who were in the vicinity of the lady who died," he added.

Tugbeh, whose husband is a cured Ebola patient, underwent treatment at the Monrovia Medical Unit, which is run by the US Public Health Service.

The woman's death has halted Liberia's goal of being declared Ebola-free by mid-April.

The World Health Organization (WHO) requires countries prove there are no new cases of Ebola reported for 42 days before it can be officially declared virus free because the incubation period is 21 days.

There have been more than 4,300 recorded Ebola deaths in Liberia in just over a year.

Earlier this month the WHO announced that no news Ebola cases had been registered in Liberia since February 19.

More than 24,700 people have been infected worldwide with the virus in the past 15 months, with 10,194 reported deaths, the WHO said.

'Safe' and successful Ebola vaccine

Two experimental vaccines, one from GlaxoSmithKline and the other from biotech start-up NewLink Genetics, "appear to be safe," the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Friday after testing the drug is Liberia.

The single injection vaccines proved safe for 600 participants, Fatorma Bolay from the Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccines in Liberia said.

"We are grateful to the Liberian people who volunteered for this important clinical trial and encouraged by the study results," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr Anthony Fauci said in a statement on Thursday.

"Now we must move forward to adapt and expand the study so that ultimately we can determine whether these experimental vaccines can protect against [the] Ebola virus disease and therefore be used in future Ebola outbreaks," Fauci added.

The trial began on February 2, in Monrovia, Liberia with over 2,600 people participating. Neither volunteers nor researchers knew who received which vaccine, or the placebo saline injection.

jlw/sb (AFP, dpa)

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