The latest Ebola outbreak sweeping through West Africa is the largest in history, and as the situation worsens, it could have a big impact on frequent travelers.
In a recent statement to CNN, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization said the Ebola outbreak “is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” which isn’t very reassuring, particularly to travelers planning on heading anywhere near West Africa.
Travel restrictions have now been put in place for Liberia, Sierra Leone & Guinea by the WHO and the Center for Disease Control, who say the threat level is the highest in history. Several carriers who fly to West Africa have cut flights after an infected man flew from Liberia to Nigeria, where he later died.
If you think this is the stuff of movies and that you don’t need to be concerned about it, think again.
Ebola is contracted by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected. The virus begins by displaying flu-like symptoms in the affected, anywhere from 2-28 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, weakness, diarrhea and vomiting. This latest outbreak kills roughly 60% of those infected, but has the potential to kill up to 90%. There is no cure.
The virus is currently spreading throughout Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where over 700 people have died.
The situation has escalated so quickly that Liberia has closed their borders, schools & community centers, and the prime minister is considering quarantining some communities. The US Peace Corps has pulled out over 300 volunteers spread throughout the three countries, and two Americans ill with the virus have been evacuated back to the states, to be cared for at Emery University Hospital in Atlanta, near CDC headquarters. They are alive, but in serious condition. Other American health workers have died after contracting the virus.
Until yesterday, there were no travel restrictions placed on travel to these countries. But then, the CDC issued this statement:
“The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, who announced the travel warning.
What This Means For Travelers
- Non-essential travel to West African countries (especially Liberia, Guinea & Sierra Leone) should be avoided.
- Over 20 US airports, including JFK & Newark, have been staffed with health officials trained to look for the symptoms of Ebola. Those with symptoms will be isolated.
- Since Ebola symptoms start out as flu-like, traveling while you’re sick (with something else) could lead to quite the headache.
- As of now the virus is not airborne, but it is spread through contact with blood and fluid. Travelers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, and take care to cover up any open sores or cuts before traveling.
The CDC IS stepping up their efforts to fight Ebola and as of now, say they’re confident the virus will not spread throughout the United States. But, only time will tell how this pandemic does or does not move.