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Health Officials Announce Return Of Ebola In Liberia


The world got a grim reminder this week that ebola is still a major threat in West Africa. The deadly virus has returned to Liberia almost two months after the country was declared ebola-free. There are only two confirmed cases at this point, but health officials are concerned they could spark a new outbreak. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff has more.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: This past Sunday, a 17-year-old boy died of Ebola in a town just outside Liberia's capital city. But health workers didn't discover he had Ebola until after he died. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said a team of Liberian health workers and U.S. scientists rushed to the village where the boy's body was found.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: We were at the site within two hours of diagnosis, and the team is working around the clock.

DOUCLEFF: The team immediately began tracking down people who came into contact with him and testing them for Ebola.

FRIEDEN: We're particularly concerned about his family. His father cared for him, nursed him when he was ill, was with him when he died and is at great risk of developing Ebola.

DOUCLEFF: So far Liberian health officials say at least one other person in the village has tested positive for Ebola and at least two households are under quarantine. Frieden says the country is preparing for more cases, but he thinks this time Liberia is ready.

FRIEDEN: It's very clear that Liberia today is a completely different country in terms of Ebola preparedness than it was a year ago.

DOUCLEFF: But that's not to say the situation won't get worse before it gets better.

JESSE GOODMAN: I think, you know, seeing two new cases like this several weeks after believing that the outbreak was under control is very concerning.

DOUCLEFF: That's Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease doctor at Georgetown University. He says the concern is that health officials have no idea right now where the boy caught Ebola. The first thought was that he might have caught it in Guinea or Sierra Leone. Both of those countries are still struggling to end the epidemic and report about 10 new cases a week. But there's no evidence the boy traveled, leaving health officials with a big puzzle.

GOODMAN: Where did he contract the disease and did other people at the same time? That's absolutely critical.

DOUCLEFF: Critical because the boy's death suggests that there are cases trickling over from Guinea and Sierra Leone or hidden cases in Liberia that have been there all along. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.

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