DAKAR (Reuters) - A dead dog suspected of being the possible source for the re-emergence of Ebola in Liberia has tested negative for the disease, two health officials citing initial findings said on Tuesday as two new cases were confirmed in the country.
Residents said Liberia’s first victim of the virus since the country was declared Ebola-free in early May had shared a dog meat meal with neighbours shortly before he died on June 28.
Researchers have since retrieved the carcass of the dog from the village of Nedowein in Margibi County and tested it for Ebola, the sources said.
“I learned today the result was negative, but we have to be careful because the remains are in bad condition and the test is designed for humans,” said a health official in Liberia who asked for anonymity since research is ongoing.
The deputy head of Liberia’s Ebola response team, Francis Ketteh, could not immediately confirm the findings.
“Even if that dog had anything, finding it now will be difficult because of the time lapse. We are trying to do everything to find the source,” he said.
Ketteh added that two new Ebola cases had been confirmed in addition to three previously recorded cases. A second member of the country’s response team also stated that a total of five cases had been confirmed in the new outbreak.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest on record and has killed more than 11,200 people. Liberia was seen as a success story when, with neighbours Guinea and Sierra Leone still struggling to end the outbreak, it was declared free of the virus on May 9.
Experts are baffled by the reappearance of the haemorrhagic fever, especially since the first victim, a 17-year-old boy named Abraham Memaigar, lived far from the borders and had no known history of visiting infected areas.
Liberia has since reported two more cases linked to the first. Both people have been hospitalised.
Tracing the origins of the virus is seen as important since it will offer clues on preparing for future outbreaks in a region where some scientists think the virus is endemic, possibly living in animal hosts.
Like humans, monkeys and pigs are known to be able to carry Ebola, although there has not been proof that dogs can carry it.
However, a 2005 study showed that dogs in areas of Gabon affected by past Ebola outbreaks had antibodies against it, suggesting they might be survivors.
Another possible explanation for Memaigar’s infection is that the virus never disappeared and continued to affect populations in remote parts of the country.
Reporting by Emma Farge; additional reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Editing by Joe Bavier, Mark Trevelyan, Toni Reinhold