Liberian officials say at least two people caught Ebola from a teenager who died of the virus. The country had battled West Africa's most recent outbreak for over a year before being declared free of Ebola in early May.
On Wednesday, Liberia confirmed two new Ebola cases in the town where doctors found the virus on the corpse of 17-year-old Abraham Memaigar seven weeks after officials had declared the country free from the virus on May 9. Health officials told the news agency AFP that the infected pair had come into physical contact with Memaigar before his death on Sunday in a village near the country's international airport, about an hour's drive southeast of the capital, Monrovia, a city of about 1 million people.
"One hundred and two contacts have been identified, although that number is expected to increase as investigations continue," the World Health Organization said in its latest report. "At this stage the origin of infection is not known."
Liberia had reported its last victim on March 20. However, Health Minister Bernice Dahn said that additional cases were now likely.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a news conference in Washington that the new Ebola death served as "a warning to us that the job is not done."
Experts say Memaigar could have become infected with a new variant of the virus, perhaps from an animal such as a fruit bat, rather than from a human. However, some worry that clusters of Ebola could continue to smolder under the surface, outside of the gaze of local or international health authorities. Ebola's incubation period - the time between infection and recognizable symptoms - can last several weeks.
Moses Massaquoi, the head of the Liberian government's Ebola management department, said that 14 conventional health workers among the people identified to have had contact with Memaigar placed themselves in voluntary quarantine. Ebola spreads among humans via the bodily fluids of recently deceased victims and people showing symptoms of the tropical fever, which include vomiting, diarrhea and - in the worst cases - massive internal and external hemorrhaging.
During the months of peak transmission from August to November last year, Liberia became the setting for some of the most shocking scenes from the outbreak, by far the biggest in recorded history. The country reported more than 300 new cases a week. Three hundred and seventy-eight health workers became infected, with 192 dying.
mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)