Eleven people have died and five are in hospital, Liberian and World Health Organisation officials said in an update on the mystery illness that hit some people who attended the funeral of a pastor in Greenville, Sinoe County.
A spokesman of the World Health Organization (WHO) said initial results reported by Liberian authorities had ruled out Ebola as the cause, but could not say whether samples were being sent to other laboratories for confirmation.
On Wednesday, the WHO said Liberian health authorities were taking rapid precautionary steps after the people died of a mystery illness, 10 months after the end of a two-year Ebola virus outbreak.
“It seems all of these people were attending the funeral of a religious leader,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a briefing in Geneva.
“They have taken samples from the dead bodies, and all the samples came back negative for Ebola. They will be looking of course for other haemorrhagic fevers and for bacteria, if there was any common exposure to water contamination or food contamination,” she said.
Eight people remain under observation in J.F. Grant Hospital in Sinoe county, a four-hour drive southeast of the capital Monrovia, with symptoms including fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, she said.
Hospital staff are wearing protective equipment and contacts of the sick are being traced in the community to see if they have fallen ill, Chaib added.
“WHO, CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) and other partners are providing technical and logistical support to the rapid response team that has been activated at district and county levels,” she said.
In June last year, the WHO declared Liberia free of active Ebola virus transmission, the last of three West African countries at the epicentre 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.
A WHO advisory group of vaccine experts is due later on Friday to issue their findings after a three-day regular meeting on vaccines. The statement would include an update on “efficacy, safety and timelines for licensing Ebola vaccines”, Chaib said.
According to Dr. Francis Nah Kateh, the chief medical officer of Liberia, based on initial investigations and the signs and symptoms presented by those affected, the Ministry has ruled out Ebola as the cause of deaths.
“We have gathered additional specimens and are working with other line agencies, most especially the police, in toxicology analysis,” he said. “We want to know if it’s a toxin involved,” Kateh said in a briefing reported by a Liberian online newspaper, BushChicken.com
The investigation, he said, will take some time.
Bushchicken.com said the victims suffered from stomach pain before dying.
Kateh has cautioned the public to continue practicing all preventive measures instituted by the Ministry that helped to contain the spread of Ebola.
He stressed that people must wash their hands frequently, as well as report sicknesses and deaths of relatives.
Liberia was struck by the Ebola Virus Disease in 2014, a strange disease that claimed an estimated 4,500 lives in Liberia.