The Ebola virus is still lurking and spreading undetected until it kills people in West Africa, the World Health Organization said Wednesday — and survivors may be helping to keep the epidemic going.
Thirty cases were reported last week in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The virus has made a small comeback in Liberia, which was Ebola-free for a couple of hopeful months until the death of a teenage boy late last month showed the virus was still circulating. It’s infected at least six people and killed two of them.
“Preliminary evidence from genomic sequencing strongly suggests that the most likely origin of transmission is a re-emergence of the virus from a survivor within Liberia,” WHO said.
The death of a Liberian woman in March was blamed on sexual transmission from her fiancé, an Ebola survivor. The virus can stay in the body for months after symptoms end and doctors believe it may be possible to still infect someone else via bodily fluids.
The good news is that local authorities are mostly on top of the spread, WHO said.
“All nine of the cases reported from Conakry (Guinea’s capital) and all 10 of the cases reported from Freetown (Sierra Leone’s capital) were either registered contacts of a previous case or have an established epidemiological link to a known chain of transmission,” WHO said.
“One of the 30 cases reported in the week to 12 July arose from a yet unknown source of infection. However, a substantial proportion of cases (7 of 30: 23 percent ) continue to be identified as Ebola-positive only after post-mortem testing.”
The epidemic’s been going for well over a year now. The virus has infected more than 27,600 people and killed more than 11,000 of them.
Experts agree there’s a risk the virus can spread to other countries so long as it infects people anywhere. WHO and other organizations say the world needs to help the affected countries build up good health systems so they can stop Ebola and other infectious diseases.