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Liberian Woman Spreads Ebola To Family A Year After Infection

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Doctors have reported the odd case of an Ebola survivor who harbored the deadly virus for a year before infecting others.

Family Tested For Ebola

The Liberian woman caught Ebola during the 2014-2015 epidemic that struck West Africa. A year later, she apparently infected three of her family members, one of whom died of the disease.

The woman's eldest child, a 15-year-old boy, was hospitalized for vomiting blood and was tested positive for Ebola.

Following the child's diagnosis, contract-tracers observed and tested the family, which includes the 33-year-old woman, the boy's 40-year-old father and his three younger siblings aged 5 years, 8 years, and 2 months.

Blood tests revealed that the father and the 8-year-old sibling had Ebola. Both had recovered after they received treatment. The 5-year-old was not infected. Despite intensive treatment, the teenager had died 10 days after his symptoms appeared.

Virus Reemerged Due To Pregnancy

The mother and the baby did not have the virus in their blood but both had antibodies against it, suggesting that the mother had an earlier infection and the baby absorbed the protective antibodies through breastfeeding.

Researchers found out that the woman cared for her brother who showed Ebola-like symptoms during the epidemic. She later experienced a similar illness but did not seek care.

Weeks after the woman had given birth in 2015, she suffered from fatigue and breathing difficulties, which may have been symptoms of Ebola. Doctors said that since pregnancy lowers the body's immune defenses to protect the fetus, it may have allowed the virus to reemerge.

How The Woman Infected Members Of Her Family

Emily Kainne Dokubo, the report's lead author who also led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's response to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, said that the woman may have infected her husband and two children when they took care of her.

The infection tends to spread through contact with an infected person's blood and other bodily fluids.

Experts think it is unlikely that the woman infected her husband through sexual contact as there has been no evidence of sexual transmission of Ebola from female survivors.

Implications

Dokubo said that the case is rare but it does mean that countries that were affected by Ebola should not be complacent even after the outbreaks appear to be over.

"These findings underscore the need for focused prevention efforts among survivors and sustained capacity to rapidly detect and respond to new Ebola virus disease cases to prevent recurrence of a widespread outbreak," Dokubo and colleagues wrote in their report published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases on July 23.

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