WHO Officials: Ebola Transmission in West Africa at Zero

New flare-ups likely to occur.

All known chains of Ebola transmission have been stopped in West Africa, and the outbreak is over in Liberia, but more work needs to be done, according to officials with the World Health Organization. 

Liberia was first declared free of Ebola transmission in May 2015, but the virus was re-introduced twice since then, with the latest flare-up in November. The announcement comes 42 days (two 21-day incubation cycles of the virus) after the last confirmed patient in Liberia tested negative for the disease 2 times, according to a prepared statement from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“WHO commends Liberia’s government and people on their effective response to this recent re-emergence of Ebola,” Dr Alex Gasasira, WHO Representative in Liberia, said in the statement. “The rapid cessation of the flare-up is a concrete demonstration of the government’s strengthened capacity to manage disease outbreaks. WHO will continue to support Liberia in its effort to prevent, detect and respond to suspected cases.”

This marks the first time since the start of the epidemic 2 years ago that all 3 of the hardest-hit countries —Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have reported 0 cases for at least 42 days. Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola transmission on  Nov. 7, 2015 and Guinea on December 29, 2015.

WHO cautions that the 3 countries remain at high risk of additional small outbreaks of Ebola, like the most recent one in Liberia. To date, 10 such flare-ups have been identified that were not part of the original outbreak, and are likely the result of the virus persisting in survivors even after recovery. 

Evidence shows that the virus disappears relatively quickly from survivors, but can remain in the semen of a small number of male survivors for as long as 1 year, and in rare instances, be transmitted to intimate partners.

WHO and partners are working with the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to help ensure that survivors have access to medical and psychosocial care and screening for persistent virus, as well as counselling and education to help them reintegrate into family and community life, reduce stigma and minimize the risk of Ebola virus transmission.

The Ebola epidemic claimed the lives of more than 11300 people and infected over 28500. The disease wrought devastation to families, communities and the health and economic systems of all 3 countries.