WHO: Poisoning Appears Cause of Deaths in Sinoe

The front view of the F. J. Grant Hospital in Greenville, Sinoe County where the first set of cases of the strande sickness were taken.

Evidence suggests a mysterious illness that has killed 12 people in Liberia is linked to food or drink poisoning and is not a viral infection, the UN said Friday, while confirming three new cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that as of Wednesday, May 3, the number of patients had risen to 28, with the sickness still unexplained although Ebola and Lassa fever have been ruled out.

Results from ongoing tests at labs in the United States and Europe are still pending, but WHO spokesman Tarik Jaserevic told reporters in Geneva that “the overall risk of spread is low.”

“These findings are indicative of a point source of infection,” he added, explaining that the leading theory being investigated was “food, drink or water poisoning.”

The fact that the cases appeared tied to one funeral further suggested that an isolated case of poisoning was to blame.

Liberia first started registering incidents of the mystery sickness on April 23, triggering memories of the devastating West African Ebola epidemic that began in late 2013.

WHO and medical charity, Doctors Without Borders, have said the warning system put in place in Liberia after the Ebola crisis prompted fast action following the recent deaths.

The unexplained illness was first seen in coastal Sinoe County and has since been registered in the capital, Monrovia. It causes fever, vomiting, headaches and diarrhea.

It may be recalled that 12 people have so far died following the outbreak of the mysterious illness that began in Greenville, Sinoe County, with the illness affecting two of the dead in Monrovia, according to health authorities.

On Friday, May 5, Ministry of Health (MoH) spokesman, Sorbor George, said the illness first registered in Sinoe County was now present in Monrovia.

“The illness has entered the capital. A man came from Sinoe to attend a funeral in Monrovia and he got sick. He showed the same symptoms, later on he died,” George said.

“After he died his girlfriend got sick showing the same symptoms; she died also,” he added.

The Liberian government had given a death toll of nine on Friday, April 28, while the WHO had said 11.

The WHO raised the total number of confirmed cases to 25, from 19 on May 5, and said the “majority” are related to the funeral of a religious leader in Sinoe County. Cases started being registered on April 23.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that the illness is not Ebola, the hemorrhagic fever that killed thousands in a recent West African epidemic, despite some similar symptoms; nor is it Lassa fever, a virus also present in the region.

Mr. Jasarevic said tests were being conducted at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, after previous inconclusive results elsewhere.

“Field investigation teams are collecting data to establish possible association between any food and drinks served during this funeral ceremony to which all of the victims and sick people have been linked,” Jasarevic added.

The illness causes fever, vomiting, headaches and diarrhea, but no definitive link with the deaths has yet been made.

The outbreak has stirred memories of the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa which began in December 2013, with Liberia hit hardest. More than 29,000 are estimated to have been infected, and a third of those died.

Joanne Liu, president of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said the swift reaction to the mysterious outbreak demonstrated a positive change after the horrors of Ebola.

“People are on the starting block now when something happens, at least in terms of confirming, and I think that this sort of reactivity is the legacy of Ebola,” she told AFP.

Liu said the illness “might be food intoxication,” but that more information is needed.


  1. I hope they broadcast this around the world because already I have seen news outlets in the US and England talking about mysterious deaths in Liberia. You know what those people will think , EBOLA>

  2. Quite a relief to hear that the cause of deaths could be food related poisoning and not Ebola related virus as widely speculated. The hope is this is not any variant of Ebola, as this nation cannot afford another episode of this deadly virus, especially at this stage.

    I must thank the health department for the way this is being handled overall. I also extend the same courtesy to the general public for the level of response and preparedness being exhibited. This is indicative of authority working with the general public not just to assure them but also educate them with necessary information as they become available.

    That being said, I am a little worried and concerned about this statement, “The illness has entered the capital. A man came from Sinoe to attend a funeral in Monrovia and he got sick. He showed the same symptoms, later on he died.” “After he died his girlfriend got sick showing the same symptoms; she died also.” The question is was the girlfriend one of the attendees to this funeral in Sinoe which is the source of these deaths? Or was she always in Monrovia but got infected after direct contact with this man who just returned from Sinoe? If the latter is true, than we need to worry. Did she get infected by him, and if so how did she get it? Is it a virus, and if so what is the mode of transmission? This could change the dynamics of the progress thus far. Just few thoughts…


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