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Nigeria’s Ebola outbreak may be coming to an end

A Nigerian port health official uses a thermometer to screen Ukrainian captain Bosenko Rusian for Ebola on the deck of a cargo ship at the Apapa port in Lagos, Nigeria. (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)

While the Ebola epidemic continues to ravage Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, its spread into Nigeria may now be contained, health officials said Tuesday.

The country has had no new cases of the deadly virus since Aug. 31, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said suggests that the outbreak could be coming to an end in Africa's most populous country.

Nigeria's first known case of Ebola was traced to Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian American who traveled from Ebola-ravaged Liberia and arrived in the Nigerian capital of Lagos on July 20. He died five days later.

Sawyer had been admitted to a private hospital in Nigeria, and although he wasn't immediately quarantined, the country aggressively responded to contain the virus. Nigerian officials quickly declared an Ebola emergency; since then, health workers have conducted 18,500 face-to-face visits and identified 894 people who have had contact with someone who may have had Ebola, according to the CDC.

More than 400 people were under surveillance in the oil city of Port Harcourt. Now, nearly all of the 894 Ebola "contacts" have exited the monitoring phase.

“Although Nigeria isn't completely out of the woods, their extensive response to a single case of Ebola shows that control is possible with rapid, focused interventions," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Countries throughout the region as well as Nigeria need to take rapid steps to prepare for possible cases of Ebola in order to prevent outbreaks in their country.”

Nigeria has had eight Ebola deaths and 20 confirmed or probable cases. The majority of Ebola patients in Nigeria contracted the virus in one of two health facilities in Lagos, and 11 Ebola patients have recovered.

Tuesday's CDC statement pointed out that Nigeria benefited in part from its past experiences in responding to public health crises, such as lead poisoning in 2010 and polio in 2012.

Other West African nations — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the current outbreak began — have struggled to contain what has become the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Some public health officials have even raised the possibility that Ebola may not be eradicated in those three countries for a very long time, possibly even becoming endemic.

There were 6,553 Ebola cases — including 3,083 deaths — in those three countries through Sept. 23, according to the World Health Organization. The CDC has previously laid out a worst-case scenario of 1.4 million Ebola cases by January.