The two-year Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people across west Africa and triggered a global health scare is to be declared over Thursday, with Liberia the last country expecting the all-clear.
The worst outbreak of the tropical virus in history has wrecked the economies and health systems of the three worst-hit nations since it emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013.
At its peak, it devastated Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with bodies piling up in the streets and overwhelmed hospitals recording hundreds of new cases a week.
The World Health Organization said Thursday’s announcement in Geneva would “mark 42 days since the last Ebola cases in Liberia were tested negative.”
Liberia, the country worst hit by the outbreak with 4,800 deaths, discharged its last two patients from hospital — the father and younger brother of a 15-year-old victim — on December 3, 2015.
“We will remain careful and keep calling on the population to take the necessary measures in preventing reoccurrence,” said Francis Karteh, Liberia’s chief medical officer, a key figure in the response to the epidemic.
Africa’s oldest republic was the last country still afflicted by the outbreak that infected almost 29,000 people and claimed 11,315 lives, according to official data.
The real toll is suspected to be much higher, with many Ebola deaths believed to have gone unreported.
After the last patient is declared in the clear, a 42-day countdown — twice the incubation period of the virus — begins before the country is proclaimed Ebola-free.
Ebola causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea. In many cases it shuts down organs and causes unstoppable internal bleeding. Patients often succumb within days.
The virus is spread through close contact with the sweat, vomit, blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person, or the recently deceased.
From a Guinean infant who was the first victim the epidemic quickly spread into neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, notching up more deaths than all other Ebola outbreaks combined.