A village in northern Sierra Leone has been placed under quarantine after a post-mortem test revealed a man had died from Ebola. Several hospitals failed to recognize him as a potential victim of the disease.
Earlier this week the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the fewest weekly Ebola infections for over a year in West Africa. However the WHO also said it was bracing for a significant new outbreak in Sierra Leone, which alongside Guinea and Liberia, is one of the worst affected countries.
In the week up to Sunday 26 July, there were four confirmed cases in Guinea and three in Sierra Leone. Those three included a patient who died after travelling from the capital Freetown to the northern district of Tonkolili. He was described by the WHO as posing "a substantial risk of further transmission." The patient had only been confirmed Ebola-positive after post-mortem testing.
On Friday the WHO said more than 500 contacts had been identified "several of whom are deemed to be high risk." Investigations were continuing to establish the source of infection and trace all contacts.
According to Hassan Abdul Sesay, a member of parliament from the region where the patient died, the man had traveled to his home village to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Northern Tonkolili district had not had a single case of Ebola in five months. The man was treated for fever at a local hospital but authorities did not consider it necessary to call the Ebola emergency number. Ebola's main symptom is fever which is also found in other illnesses such as malaria and typhoid.
Sierra Leoneans 'fed up'
The spokesman of the National Ebola Response Center, Sidi Tunis, told DW's correspondent in Freetown, Murtala Kamara, that a total of 624 people had been placed under quarantine, 503 in the village where the man died, the others in other villages where he had sought treatment as well as in the capital.
Kamara said that the level of awareness in the country was high, largely due to information provided by local media. "Most people you talk to, even children, they know about the disease and how to take preventive measures." But the length of time it was taking to finally eliminate the disease was taking its toll. "To tell you the truth, the awareness is there but the disease has been in Sierra Leone for the past year and people are fed up. They want to see Ebola end. People are tired." Kamara said.
Good news came on Friday with the publication of results of the first efficacy test of the VSV-ZEBOV vaccine among people living in a high-danger zone. Study results published in the medical journal The Lancet showed that of 4,123 high-risk people in Guinea vaccinated immediately after someone close to them fell ill with Ebola, none caught the virus.
The test, backed by drug firm Merck, the WHO and the governments of Canada, Norway and Guinea prompted the WHO to declare that the world is "on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine."
WHO Director Margaret Chan said it was a potential "game changer." Trials are set to continue.
The death toll from the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa exceeds 11,000.