"We don't have a lot of information because the investigation is ongoing," said Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s special representative for the Ebola response. "As the investigation goes forward, I'm sure we will start to see new clarity."
Two of the child's family members have reported being "unwell" in recent days, Aylward said from Geneva. A WHO spokeswoman said midday Friday that the family members had been confirmed to have the virus. In addition, she said, "a rapid response was initiated, and over 40 contacts identified" are being monitored.
Aylward said it's possible the boy's case is not part of the original outbreak — which appears to be over — but may be due to the persistence of the virus in some survivors who can then pass it along to others. Recent studies have shown that the virus can live in the semen, eyes and other parts of the body long after it appears to be cleared in the blood.
He said this reflects "a fundamental shift and change in the epidemiology of the outbreak."
"This is the seventh event where we cannot rule out the possibility that we’re seeing a flare of the disease because of its emergence from a survivor population," Aylward explained. The other suspected cases were found this summer through the fall in other parts of Liberia, as well as in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea. He emphasized that this is a "very low number" and that in each case the new outbreaks were contained to one to eight people and that there were only two to three generations of transmissions.
"This reflects the maturity of the response in the countries," he said.
Aylward said emphasis is on efforts to detect and rapidly respond to new cases, which includes education campaigns aimed at survivors regarding safe sex, providing access to screening and counseling and making sure they stay in care for any longer-term issues.
In October, Pauline Cafferkey, a Scottish nurse who contracted Ebola while doing aid work in Sierra Leone and was thought to have recovered in January, fell ill again due to a complication from the virus. She was recently transferred in stable condition from a London hospital to one in Glasgow. Ian Crozier, an American doctor also thought to have been cured of Ebola, revealed that he had had significant vision problems due to the virus in his eye.
Since the spring of 2014, Liberia has suffered more than 10,600 cases and 4,808 deaths. It was the first of three countries affected most severely by the virus to be declared free of Ebola in May and again in September. Sierra Leone passed that milestone on Nov 7. Guinea recently began the 42-day countdown (to account for two full incubation periods) from when the last patient there tested negative for a second time.
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