A corpse has tested positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone, an official said Friday — just one day after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak over in West Africa
According to the Associated Press, Francis Langoba Kelly, spokesman for Sierra Leone's Office of National Security, told a local radio program that tests on a 22-year-old woman who died earlier this month were positive for the virus.
The WHO confirmed the new case, saying in a news release that its discovery reflects "the ongoing risk of new flare-ups of the virus in affected countries."
"The Sierra Leone government acted rapidly to respond to this new case," the U.N. health agency said. "Through the country’s new emergency operations center, a joint team of local authorities, WHO and partners are investigating the origin of the case, identifying contacts and initiating control measures to prevent further transmission."
On Thursday, the WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — which left more than 11,300 dead and triggered a worldwide epidemic of fear and anxiety had officially ended.
The WHO made that declaration 42 days after Liberia’s last Ebola patient tested negative for the disease twice — the traditional marker of an epidemic’s conclusion. The two other worst-affected countries, Sierra Leone and Guinea, were declared Ebola-free last year.
Still, the organization warned Thursday that “more flare-ups are expected and that strong surveillance and response systems will be critical in the months to come.”
In recent months, Liberia had been declared free of Ebola, but new cases were later discovered. Guinea, ground zero of the outbreak, was declared free of Ebola last month.
More cases of the deadly virus were reported in Sierra Leone than any other country during the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Of the more than 14,000 cases in Sierra Leone, nearly 4,000 resulted in death, according to WHO statistics.
In total, more than 28,600 people worldwide were stricken with Ebola during the outbreak, according to the WHO. More than 11,300 of them died.
As the new case emerged in Sierra Leone, government officials appealed to the public in northern Sierra Leone to remain calm.
"Our level of preparedness and response capabilities are very high and there is no cause for concern," said the Office of National Security's Kelly, according to the Associated Press. "We encourage the public to continue to practice the hygiene regulations which were in force during the period while Ebola was raging and the emergency regulations are still in force."
Authorities are tracing the woman's contacts and have dispatched teams to the area for investigations, the AP reported. Quarantines are likely.
On Thursday, as health officials celebrated the end of the Ebola outbreak, they cautioned that the risk of a flare-up remained high.
“We are now at a critical period in the Ebola epidemic as we move from managing cases and patients to managing the residual risk of new infections,” said Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s special representative for the Ebola response.
Aside from the ravages of the disease, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are facing massive economic challenges because of their virtual paralysis during the peak of the epidemic. A U.N. report last year said West Africa could lose up to $15 billion from 2015 to 2017 because of the fallout from the Ebola crisis — including effects on trade and tourism.
Meanwhile, those countries still need to find a way to care for thousands of children dubbed “Ebola orphans.” And West Africans who helped burn the bodies of the dead or transport the sick still face significant social stigma. In some cases, they have been cast out by their families.