After 42 days without incident, the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to announce the end of the Ebola outbreak on Thursday. The deadly disease plagued West Africa for several months, resulting in the deaths of more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
“We will remain careful and keep calling on the population to take the necessary measures in preventing reoccurrence,” said Francis Karteh, Liberia chief medical officer in Liberia and a major figure in the battle against the epidemic.
The WHO only declared Ebola to be a public health emergency months after its staff began to raise concerns about the virus. WHO officials announced reforms to their emergency response procedures in the wake of stark criticism over its delays which may have resulted in deaths.
A period of intense surveillance will ensue in order to keep track of the deadly illness. It is possible for the virus, which is passed through human fluids, to re-emerge as it did twice in Liberia before the country was finally declared Ebola-free in September.
The Ebola virus has a 21-day incubation period. In order to ensure that the disease hasn’t infected more people, medical experts wait for two cycles to pass without any new cases before they decide that an outbreak has ended.
Still, the risks of outbreak remain. Some people believed to have been cured have continued to suffer from Ebola-related issues including blindness, headaches, muscle and joint pain, among other symptoms.
Part of the challenge in combating outbreaks stems from the fact that the Ebola virus rapidly evolves.
Medical researchers have developed antibodies which that are believed to be able to neutralize the two deadliest strains the Ebola virus. Such preventative measures will be key in battling future outbreaks of the virus, which has few real treatment options.
HIV treatments, however, have shown some promise in combating the illness. One rural doctor, improvising amid the panic the virus caused, resorted to using the HIV drug lamivudine out of desperation. Informal studies showed that only 13 percent of those treated this way died. Overall, more than 70 percent of those infected with the Ebola virus in West Africa lost their lives.