Sierra Leone quarantines more than 100 people after new Ebola death

Death of Sierra Leonean woman to Ebola fuels fears of renewed epidemic, just days after the region was pronounced Ebola-free

A woman who died of Ebola this week in Sierra Leone may have exposed at least 27 others to the disease, an aid agency report claims, raising the risk of more cases just as the epidemic appeared to be ending.

On Saturday, Sierra Leone’s government urged the public not to panic as it announced that more than 100 people had been quarantined, just at the country seemed to have overcome the epidemic.

The country was declared free of the virus on November 7, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on Thursday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared that “all known chains of transmission have been stopped in west Africa”, meaning the area was officially free of the virus after a two-year epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people.

However, tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive, fuelling fears of a new epidemic. The WHO warned of potential flare-ups as survivors can carry the virus for months. The latest case is particularly worrying because authorities failed to follow basic health protocols, according to the report compiled by a humanitarian agency and released on Friday.

Health officials in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, said they had placed a total of 109 people who had been in contact with the student before her death in isolation.

Of those, 28 were considered “high risk” and three contacts had yet to be located, Ishmael Tarawally, the national coordinator of the Office of National Security, said at a press conference.

“We are worried and concerned about this new development but call on the general public not to panic and more than ever before, all Sierra Leoneans must work together to prevent further infection,” he said.

The victim, Mariatu Jalloh, 22, began showing symptoms at the start of January after travelling to a town near the border with Guinea in late December.

Sierra Leone’s northern border area was one of the country’s last Ebola hotspots before it was declared free of the virus on 7 November, and contact tracing was sometimes hampered by access problems.

By the time Jalloh returned to her parents’ home east of the capital Freetown, she had diarrhoea and was vomiting, the report said. Jalloh was nursed by members of a household of 22 people.

At a local hospital, a health worker took a blood sample but did not wear protective clothing. It was not immediately clear whether the sample was tested for Ebola.

She was treated as an outpatient and returned home, where she died four days later. A swab test following Jalloh’s death tested positive for Ebola.

Close to 4,000 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, and 11,000 people across the region, since December 2013.

Liberia was the last country to see the end of active transmission of Ebola. But it had been declared clear twice before, only for the infection to re-emerge.