By Alphonso Toweh
MONROVIA (Reuters) - A Liberian has died of Ebola in the first recorded case of the disease since a country at the heart of an epidemic that has killed more than 11,000 people was declared virus-free on May 9 after going 42 days without a new case.
The body of a 17-year-old tested positive for Ebola in Margibi County and authorities have begun tracing people the victim may have come into contact with while infected, Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said on Tuesday.
"There is no need to panic. The corpse has been buried and our contact tracing has started work," Nyenswah told Reuters. Margibi is a rural area close to the capital Monrovia, and is home to the country's main international airport.
A total of 11,207 people died from Ebola in Liberia, neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in December 2013, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a news conference in Geneva.
Around 43 percent of those deaths were in Liberia, where the world's worst outbreak of the disease peaked between last August and October with hundreds of cases a week.
New incidences have tapered this year, with 12 new confirmed cases reported in Guinea and eight in Sierra Leone in the week to June 21, according to WHO figures. Even so, health officials urge vigilance to prevent a resurgence of the disease.
The new case will test Liberia's response capacity at a time when international health organizations have wound down their presence in the affected countries, said Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokeswoman for the U.N. Ebola response mission.
Liberia fought Ebola at a community level, adopting regular hand-washing and the safe burial of bodies among other measures and the discovery of the new case shows that systems for testing remain in place, she said.
"This should have been expected because as long as there is Ebola in the region no one country can be safe. Liberia is vulnerable because of Guinea and Sierra Leone."
Ebola damaged the health care systems and economies of the three West African countries and caused global alarm that peaked in September and October when isolated cases were confirmed in countries such as the United States and Spain.
Nigeria, Senegal and Mali also recorded at least one case each before ending the epidemics in their countries.