Liberia has experienced 42 consecutive days -- two maximum incubation periods -- with no new cases
WHO warns of risk that disease could return to Liberia because of "exceptionally porous borders"
Liberia’s long nightmare with active cases of the Ebola virus is, for now at least, officially at an end.
But after thousands of deaths and hundreds of children orphaned, the effects likely will be felt for decades. And with the disease still tormenting people north of its porous borders, Liberia still has to worry about an unwelcome return.
The World Health Organization on Saturday declared that the outbreak of the horrific disease in Liberia – one of the three West African hotspots in history’s largest Ebola outbreak– has ended 14 months after it officially began.
The deadly outbreak continues, though at a slowing rate, in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Liberia still must be vigilant for signs of reintroduction. But the WHO said it could make Saturday’s declaration because 42 days have passed since the last person known to have Ebola in Liberia was buried on March 28.
The 42 days represent two maximum incubation periods, with no new cases in that time.
“Interruption of transmission is a monumental achievement for a country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest, and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976,” the WHO said in a news release.
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More than 4,700 of the 10,500 people who contracted the hemorrhagic fever in Liberia died since that country’s first case was reported in late March 2014.
The outbreak – which also has claimed more than 2,300 lives in Guinea and more than 3,900 in Sierra Leone – began with the December 2013 death of a 2-year-old in Guinea, the WHO has said.
At the peak of transmission in Liberia in August and September 2014, some 300 to 400 new cases were reported per week.
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Epidemic slowly fading
Over the past year, about 25,000 people have fought Ebola infections, mostly in the three West African hotspot nations.
The outbreak’s intensity has died down in Liberia’s northern neighbors. Guinea and Sierra Leone each had nine new cases last week, the WHO said.
The WHO said there still is a “high risk that infected people may cross into Liberia over the region’s exceptionally porous borders.”
“The government is fully aware of the need to remain on high alert and has the experience, capacity and support from international partners to do so,” the WHO said.
The WHO said it will keep an “enhanced staff presence” in Liberia until the end of the year.
Washington congratulates Liberia
In the United States, the White House congratulated “the people of Liberia on reaching this important marker,” and pledged its “commitment to ending the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and helping to rebuild Liberia and other affected nations.”
The United States deployed hundreds of troops to West Africa last year to help build Ebola treatment units and help distribute aid. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also assisted, sending thousands of staff members to the region.
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CNN’s Christabelle Fombu, Faith Karimi and Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.