Two months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak over, Guinea has just reported that more cases of the disease have been found in the southern region of the country, near where the original outbreak is thought to have started in 2013. Conflicting reports are currently circulating, with some sources saying that two people have died so far, whereas others report that two cases of the disease have been identified, but three others are thought to have recently succumbed to the disease.
It was only in January this year that all three West African countries at the epicenter of the outbreak were finally able to stay clear of the virus for the 42 days deemed necessary to declare a region Ebola-free. The WHO noted that it was unlikely to stay that way over the coming months as odd cases surface, and indeed it was barely a few hours after the outbreak was declared over that the record was shattered and a case was reported from Sierra Leone.
The new cases are another demonstration of how difficult it is to completely stamp out Ebola, as the disease can linger on in the body. Spread through contact with bodily fluids, it is thought that in at least some cases it can lay dormant, as demonstrated by the British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who contracted the virus in 2012 but has had three relapses so far. There is also evidence that the virus can be sexually transmitted through semen, with a few cases of this being reported.
The potential for flare-ups were, therefore, expected, but it still comes as a bit of a knock-back to those trying to stop the disease dead in its tracks. Guinea is the last of the three countries that were at the center of the outbreak – the other two being Liberia and Sierra Leone – to have had new cases since the outbreak officially finished in January. All flare-ups have been rapidly treated and dealt with.
Work is still steaming ahead to find a vaccine for the virus, as scientists have fast-tracked their research (which would normally take a decade) to start human trials within just 12 months. Last year, trials of one vaccine were found to be “100 percent successful,” leading to a massive stockpiling of doses, which could be rolled out in response to more flare-ups as soon as May of this year. Until then, countries will have to maintain their vigilance and rapid response to more cases that will inevitably surface.
Main image: Corporal Paul Shaw/MOD/Flickr CC BY 2.0