Three more people have tested positive for Ebola from the same village in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia district of the country where a 67-year-old woman died last week from the virus, health officials said.
Sierre Leone's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brima Kargbo told VOA Tuesday the new patients came from among the 50 high-risk people identified as close relatives of the deceased woman.
The West African nation has had nearly 14,000 cases of Ebola and about 4,000 deaths since the outbreak began in 2014. But Kargbo said the latest outbreak is containable because its origin is traceable.
"These are people who stayed in the same community," he said, adding that "some even participated in washing of the corpse. So that is why the entire village was quarantined to avoid transmitting the infection from one place to another."
The latest outbreak temporarily dashed the country’s hopes of being declared Ebola-free following the release from the hospital late last month of the country’s last known Ebola patient.
But Kargbo said Sierra Leoneans should not fear a widespread outbreak like a year ago. "Now we can actually trace the origin of the infection," so the virus can more readily be contained, he emphasized.
In addition, Kargbo said, the experimental "Guinea ring vaccine" is being administered in the community.
“We have actually vaccinated more than 130 people in that same community to protect them, but also to prevent those who may have come in contact with the deceased woman from actually getting the infection,” Kargbo said.
He also said authorities are looking for the deceased woman's niece, who is considered high risk. "The niece was the first person to become infected after the woman because she was more likely the caregiver."
Kargbo urged the niece to turn herself in and not fear arrest for violating the country’s Ebola procedures.
News of the latest Ebola cases nearly coincided with a World Health Organization report outlining substantial progress in ridding West Africa of the deadly virus.
Since July, the WHO said, reported cases of Ebola have been in single digits, including the new cases in Sierra Leone and a single new case reported last week in Guinea.
Urging vigilance and emphasizing that the epidemic is not over, WHO Assistant Director-General, Bruce Aylward, says the latest data from Guinea in particular gets even better.
“As of [Wednesday], they have gone seven days without a case of Ebola," he said. "That is the longest period since March of last year that Guinea has gone without an Ebola case. Clearly they are getting better and better control of this disease.”
Aylward also says the West Africa region passed three important milestones last week: Liberia passed 42 days without a confirmed case; the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown has gone without a case for 21 days, and Forecariah, Guinea — once one of the most adversely affected regions — hasn't seen a new case in 21 days.
Aylward says he believes it is possible to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end this year. Once that goal is reached, he says, there will need to be heightened surveillance for 24 months to guard against a recurrence of the disease.
Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva.