Sierra Leone confirmed on Jan. 21 that it has had two cases of Ebola within the past week. The confirmation comes just one week after the World Health Organization officially declared that West Africa's two-year epidemic had ended.
Before the most recent cases, Liberia, the last country in the region to be declared Ebola-free, had 42 consecutive days without any reported cases of the virus. Collectively, Ebola infected at least 28,600 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, killing more than 11,000.
Time reports that Sidi Yahyah Tunis, a spokesman for Sierra Leone's health ministry, said that the most recent patient is a 38-year-old woman who cared for the week's first Ebola patient, Mariatu Jalloh. Jalloh died last week, only hours after the WHO announcement, with his cause of death posthumously confirmed as being Ebola.
The new outbreak has spurred the country to reopen its Ebola treatment centers, and relaunch screening systems including checkpoints on highways, Agence France-Presse reports. So far, 150 people who were in contact with Jalloh have been identified, of which, 42 are "high-risk," according to WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
Tunis says more cases are expected in the coming weeks. "We are expecting other cases particularly from those who washed the body before the burial of [Mariatu]," he said.
"It is disappointing, of course," Tunis said, "considering we have gone over 100 days since we last recorded a case."
"What is, however, encouraging," he continued, "is the fact that this particular individual had already been identified as a high risk contact ... and she was already isolated at the voluntary facility ... and we were quickly able to remove her the moment she started exhibiting signs and symptoms."
Tunis said that the latest patient had been taken to a military hospital in Freetown which is equipped to handle Ebola cases.
Residents of Magburaka, where the newly confirmed patient is from, told AFP they were anxious for more information about the new outbreak.
"The community woke up this morning with the bad news after we were trying to shake off the first shock of Marie Jalloh," said Tity Kamara, a 36-year-old housewife.
"We don't know whether we are now safe," she added, "And it is the health authorities that should re-assure us of our safety."