GENEVA (Reuters) - A 2-year-old girl who brought Ebola to Mali may have had contact with as many as 141 people, 57 of whom have yet to be traced, according to health experts concerned the disease could spread in Mali and beyond.
Two people known to have had contact with the girl were suspected of having the disease, according to a slide presentation by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control seen by Reuters on Friday.
One of the two had not been tested and the other had been tested but with no result yet known. Tests for three other suspected cases showed negative results, it said.
The seven-slide presentation breaks down the journey the girl took with her grandmother, uncle and five-year-old sister, and shows she may have had contact with 141 people, although it stresses there may be some double counting in the numbers.
Ebola is contagious when a patient has symptoms, meaning she may have been infectious throughout her long and broken journey from Guinea, where controls are supposed to be in place to screen people for Ebola symptoms before they cross the border.
If other travelers caught the disease, their onward journeys risk spreading it in the capital Bamako or deeper into Mali, which borders Niger, Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. None of them currently have Ebola cases.
The young girl’s case made Mali the sixth country in West Africa hit by the worst Ebola outbreak on record, which has killed at least 4,920 people so far, according to the WHO.
The first leg of the girl’s journey took her from the border to Bamako by bus. Six of the 10 passengers remain unknown. She then went to and from the Bagadadji neighborhood in 5-seater taxis, with one person in each taxi ride still unknown. It was not clear from the presentation if those were the drivers.
She then sat by the window on a bus from Bamako to Kayes, and 34 contacts from that journey remain unaccounted for.
Nobody at WHO was immediately available to answer questions about the data contained in the presentation.
Contact tracing is seen as the key to stopping new outbreaks. Nigeria and Senegal have already beaten Ebola by meticulous contact-tracing and regular checks on all the contacts who were identified.
The risk of the disease spreading to new areas comes just as the first glimmer of hope appeared at the disease’s epicenter, with some signs of a slowdown in its spread in Liberia, although the WHO has said Ebola remains “rampant” in Sierra Leone.
In Guinea, where the outbreak started, a U.N. study has shown the disease has slashed economic growth from 4.5 percent to 2.4 percent, with government expenditure up by $100 million and revenues down by $105 million.
That has prompted the government to revise its budget for the coming months, a U.N. daily update said.
Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Heneghan