The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that Liberian health authorities are taking rapid precautionary measures after 10 people died of a mystery illness, 10 months after the end of a catastrophic two-year Ebola virus outbreak.
Liberian authorities said initial scientific investigations have ruled out Ebola as the cause of the deaths. Residents say the people died of suspected ‘food poisoning’ from food eaten at the funeral repast of a pastor (not named). The pastor’s death was attributed to high blood pressure.
The Liberian National Police is also investigating the causes of the deaths.
“The corpse of the person who died today (yesterday) reportedly decayed within a short time,” a female resident told the Daily Observer via mobile phone last night.
Accounts from Greenville have meanwhile described the situation as being tense and confusing. As a result, health workers are reportedly wearing personal protection equipments (PPEs) similar to what healthcare givers used during the deadly Ebola outbreak in the country.
One account said some of the victims were literally dropping dead and that officers of the LNP are using megaphones to warn residents to report all sick cases to the hospital and not to churches or shrines.
“Yesterday, WHO received a report from Liberia health authorities about a cluster of unexplained illness and deaths in Sinoe County, southern Liberia,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email.
“According to the report, since Monday, 14 people have fallen sick. Eight people have died and six are seriously ill and still in the hospital.”
He gave no indication of what might have caused the deaths, but said specimens from seven bodies had been sent to the national laboratory for testing and that results were expected Wednesday or yesterday, Thursday.
Samples were also being taken from water sources to test for chemicals and bacteria, he said.
“Health authorities are taking immediate precautionary measures such as isolating suspected cases, tracing contacts and engaging with the community and their leaders,” Jasarevic added.
The Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, Dr. Francis Nah Kateh, told a news conference in Monrovia on Wednesday that rapid response teams have been activated at district and county levels.
Kateh, however, did not respond to this newspaper’s phone call last night; neither did he reply to a text message the Daily Observer sent to him.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that “initial tests conducted by the Liberian Institute of Biomedical Research in Charlesville, Margibi County, has ruled out Ebola virus disease as the cause of the deaths.”
In June last year, the WHO declared Liberia free of active Ebola virus transmission, the last of three West African countries at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
The epidemic killed more than 11,300 people and infected some 28,600 from 2013, as it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to WHO data. (Reuters).