Nine people have died and eight are sick in Liberia after attending the funeral of a religious leader, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.
A WHO spokeswoman 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 eight 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 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.