MONROVIA (Reuters) - The last four cases of Ebola in Liberia were discharged from a treatment clinic in the capital of Monrovia on Monday, meaning there were no more confirmed carriers of the deadly virus in the West African country.
The group of four, released from the ELWA treatment unit to cheers and applause, were part of new wave of Ebola infections in Margibi County just outside Monrovia discovered in late June.
Two other confirmed cases have since died, including the sister of one of the released patients.
“The (Ebola treatment unit) is not a death camp; you can come here and survive,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, head of Liberia’s Ebola response. “This is what we can demonstrate even if Ebola comes back.”
Medical officials shook the hands of the four survivors from Margibi County, a rural area outside Monrovia, and handed them food and supplies. The youngest, Moses Duo, is just nine years old. “Now that I have survived, I feel fine. I have no pain in my body again,” said Othello Miah, 19.
More than 11,200 people have died from Ebola since an epidemic broke out in December 2013 in neighboring Guinea.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and military assistance from the United States, its long-term ally, helped Liberia control the outbreak and it was declared Ebola-free on May 9. But it reported a new case nearly two months later. The outbreak is still active in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Health experts have not yet discovered why Ebola resurfaced in Liberia, although genetic tests on the first case in the new wave of infections show it probably remained latent in the country.
Officials think that sexual transmission is the most likely explanation, since the virus can persist in soft tissues of the body such as semen for up to 90 days.
At least 100 contacts who came into contact with the six cases and are at risk of developing symptoms will remain under surveillance into August.
“There is still a lot to do. We need to continue surveillance and keep up standards in healthcare centers,” Nicoletta Bellio, the Medicins Sans Frontieres head of mission for Liberia, said by telephone. Officials said last week they were tracking a herbalist who treated the 17-year-old boy who sparked the new cases and fled to Nimba County.
A country is not declared Ebola-free until 42 days have passed with no new cases.
Additional reporting by Emma Farge; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Emma Farge; Editing by Larry King