Nigeria probes suspected Ebola case, one year after virus was stopped

A patient has reportedly died at a hospital in southern Nigeria after displaying Ebola-like symptoms. Ten people have been quarantined as authorities investigate the cause of death.

Sunday Alamba/AP/File
Health officials screening passengers at Murtala Mohammed International airport in Lagos, Nigeria, last October. While the country has long been Ebola-free, a patient has reportedly died at a hospital in southern Nigeria after displaying symptoms of the virus.

Ten people have been quarantined after coming into contact with a patient with Ebola-like symptoms in Nigeria, a year after health officials declared the country Ebola-free.

The patient checked into a teaching hospital in the southern city of Calabar on Wednesday after showing signs of the deadly virus, Reuters reports. The BBC reports that he apparently died shortly after being admitted to the hospital, but his exact condition is unknown. 

"We have sent blood samples for testing and quarantined identified contacts," saod the hospital's chief medical director, Queeneth Kalu. Most of those quarantined are medical personnel, and officials insisted there was no cause for panic among the public. 

Last year Nigeria was hailed as a “spectacular success story,” according to the World Health Organization, after containing the Ebola virus in July 2014. At the time, Nigeria had reported 20 cases of Ebola, including eight deaths. One of those who died was a Liberian airline passenger who brought Ebola to Nigeria and died soon after.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and experts warn that that its geographical location and extensive borders makes it vulnerable to imported cases of Ebola.

The new potential case comes as Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – the three countries worst affected by Ebola – each recorded their first week with no new cases since the outbreak began in March 2014. 

Sierra Leone released its last known Ebola patients on Sept. 28 and must wait 42 days until it can be declared Ebola-free. Liberia received that designation again Sept. 3 after a flare-up in June; Guinea's most recent cases were recorded on Sept. 27. More than 11,000 people have  died in the West African Ebola outbreak, and communities in all three countries are now working to rebuild.

Nigeria’s past success was based on “contract tracing": determining every person that "patient zero" had contact with, then monitoring them for symptoms. The Washington Post reported:

From that single patient came a list of 281 people, [Gavin MacGregor-Skinner, who helped with the Ebola response in Nigeria] said. Every one of those individuals had to provide health authorities twice-a-day updates about their well-being, often through methods like text-messaging. Anyone who didn't feel well or failed to respond was checked on, either through a neighborhood network or health workers.

... In the end, contact tracers — trained professionals and volunteers — conducted 18,500 face-to-face visits to assess potential symptoms, according to the CDC, and the list of contacts throughout the country grew to 894. Two months later, Nigeria ended up with a total of 20 confirmed or probable cases and eight deaths.

Officials in Nigeria say they will share news of the blood samples taken from the patient in Calabar on Friday.

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