Health officials are investigating if the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea may have been triggered by a person who was first infected with the virus during the Ebola epidemic in the region five years ago.
This would suggest infections may persist once people recover and have the potential to start a future outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is carrying out further investigations into the individual who appears to have had the virus lay dormant in their body.
Researchers sequenced the genome of nine samples taken from people infected during the current outbreak and compared them against sequences from previous outbreaks to help identify the cause.
The results suggest the latest outbreak ‘is the result of the resurgence of a strain that previously circulated in the West African outbreak’.
The team found that the strain of the Ebola virus circulating resembled that of the Makano variant, responsible for the large-scale 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa.
“The similarities are big enough for us to declare that this is the same family of the virus,” says Dr. Salam Gueye, director of the Emergency preparedness and Response Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
Guinea’s Ministry of Health declared a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the country’s Nzérékoré region on February 14. As of 25 March, 18 cases have been reported, including 14 confirmed and four probable cases. Nine people have died and 366 contacts are being followed up.
The latest outbreak started just 200 km from the epicenter of the previous epidemic, according to the researchers.