UN declares end to Ebola virus transmission in Guinea; first time all three host countries free

NEW YORK, 29th December 2015 (WAM) --- The United Nations health agency today declared the end of Ebola virus transmission in Guinea, where the epidemic began two years ago before spreading to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone and, ultimately by land and air travel to seven other countries, killing over 11,300 people.

However, experts called for continued vigilance against any new outbreak stemming from the virus’s lingering in male semen even after the bloodstream has been cleared.

"This is the first time that all three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago," World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said in a news release, of the largest-ever epidemic of the deadly disease.

Forty-two days have now passed since the last person in Guinea confirmed to have Ebola virus disease tested negative for the second time, and the country now enters 90 days of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly before they can spread to others.

"WHO and its partners will continue to support Guinea during the next 90 days of heightened surveillance and in its early efforts to restart and strengthen essential health services throughout 2016," WHO Representative in Guinea Mohamed Belhocine said.

"We must render homage to the Government and people of Guinea who, in adversity, have shown extraordinary leadership in fighting the epidemic."

Apart from the original chain of transmission, there were 10 new small outbreaks between March and November, apparently due to the re-emergence of a persistent virus from survivors. One challenge is that after recovery and clearing the virus from the bloodstream, the virus may persist in the semen of some male survivors for as long as nine to 12 months.

WHO and its partners are working with the Governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to help ensure that survivors have access to medical and psychosocial care, 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 coming months will be absolutely critical," WHO Special Representative for Ebola Response Bruce Aylward said. "This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases.

Aylward said, "The time-limited persistence of the virus in survivors which may give rise to new Ebola flares in 2016 makes it imperative that partners continue to support these countries. WHO will maintain surveillance and outbreak response teams in the three countries through 2016."


WAM/MMYS