Health officials in Liberia are investigating the unexplained deaths of nine people who attended a funeral-related event, but tests are negative for the Ebola virus.
Reports of the deaths in Sinoe County first turned up in the African media, sparking fears of the return of Ebola, especially since West African funeral rituals in the past have been known to amplify the spread of the virus.
In Facebook posts, Umaru Fofana, a Reuters correspondent based in Sierra Leone, said an unusual number of deaths are linked to the death of an 11-year-old girl who became ill with symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting over the weekend after attending a funeral of a religious leader in Greenville, the capital of Sinoe County in southeastern Liberia.
Fofana said the United Nations has issued a precaution to its staff in Liberia regarding an unusual number of deaths at the FJ Grante Hospital, where the patients died. The agency added that health workers in the area have been advised to don personal protective equipment, even when treating patients who aren't suspected cases.
Fofana said the outbreak started over the weekend and escalated on Monday and Tuesday. Samples were taken to Buchanan in Grand Bassa County for testing, and the Liberian national Police have used megaphones to warn residents to report all sick patients to the hospital, not to churches or shrines.
Cluster involves 17 patients
Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman with the World Health Organization (WHO) told CIDRAP News that, according to the latest information, there are 17 illnesses in the cluster, 9 of them fatal. Eight people are still in the hospital.
All nine specimens from six people who died have tested negative for Ebola, he said, adding that investigations into the cause of the outbreak are ongoing.
No Ebola cases have been reported in West Africa since March 2016.
Umaru Fofana Facebook page