The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone over, after no new infections were reported in the country for 42 days. This period corresponds to two Ebola virus incubation cycles – the time between infection and the appearance of symptoms – since the last confirmed case tested negative for the second time, bringing the nation closer to ending its 18-month struggle against the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.
Health officials will continue to operate in Sierra Leone as the country enters a three-month surveillance period. This is considered a necessary measure as there remains a possibility of new cases arising, and detecting these as early as possible will be key to preventing its spread. For instance, a preliminary report published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that the virus can persist in the semen of survivors for at least nine months. With more than 8,000 male Ebola survivors across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, continued vigilance and education regarding safe sex is of utmost importance.
Sierra Leone detected its first case of Ebola in May 2014, and since then more than 3,500 people have lost their lives to the disease. While there is currently no cure or vaccine available, a number of clinical trials are being fast-tracked in the hope of producing an effective medicine. In the meantime, efforts to curtail the outbreak have involved the implementation of a range of measures designed to prevent people from coming into contact with the virus, which is transmitted through body fluids. For example, the adoption of a safe protocol for burying victims has played an important role in protecting mourners and health officials alike.