The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest Ebola outbreak in history, affecting multiple countries and to date killing nearly 3,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. This article deals with some frequently asked questions about Ebola for travellers:
Which countries have been affected by the Ebola outbreak?
The three countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, all in West Africa. About 5,762 Ebola infections have been confirmed in these three neighbouring countries since March (as of 23 September), although health authorities warn that the total number of Ebola infections is likely much higher as many cases go unreported or unconfirmed. Guinea and Sierra Leone are considered by experts to be making some progress fighting the Ebola virus, but Liberia is seeing a rapid increase in Ebola cases.
Nigeria and Senegal have also confirmed Ebola cases, but authorities are hopeful that the disease has now been successfully contained in both countries and is no longer spreading. Senegal only ever confirmed one case of Ebola, and Nigeria confirmed about 20 cases, with at least eight fatalities. In Nigeria the disease was only ever reported in the cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt.
The Democratic Republic of Congo also recently reported an outbreak of Ebola, but the cases remain isolated in the northern state of Equateur and authorities believe it is a different strain of the virus and unrelated to the outbreak sweeping West Africa.
Is it safe to travel to Africa during the Ebola outbreak?
Africa is a vast continent consisting of 47 countries and Ebola cases have only been confirmed in six countries. It is absolutely safe to travel to African countries which have not been hit by the disease, which is being very carefully monitored. Border security has been increased and airports are screening arriving and departing passengers for Ebola symptoms in any countries considered at risk. Naturally the neighbouring countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are considered most at risk; these include Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea Bissau and Mali.
What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Ebola symptoms include a high fever, headaches, weakness and muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained bleeding and bruising, and stomach pain. Symptoms can appear anything from two to 21 days after infection, but on average symptoms start eight to 10 days after infection.
How is Ebola Spread?
Ebola is a low risk disease for most travellers because it is only spread through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Meaning that if travellers avoid all infected persons and places where they congregate for treatment, and as a precaution avoid all contact with bodily fluids, they shouldn't have a problem.
What can travellers do to protect themselves from Ebola?
If you must travel to a country affected by the Ebola outbreak, there are some health precautions that should be taken:
-wash your hands frequently and carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
-Avoid all contact with the bodily fluids of other people (and with any objects that frequently come into contact with bodily fluids).
-Do not touch the body of somebody who has died from Ebola.
-Where possible, avoid all hospitals and clinics and any other place where Ebola patients are being treated.
-Seek medical attention immediately if you develop any of the symptoms listed above.
Are there Ebola travel alerts in place?
There are Level 3 Travel Warnings in place for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, meaning that all but essential travel is advised against. There are Level 2 Travel Warnings in place for Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, meaning that travellers are advised to take precautions if travelling to Lagos, Port Harcourt or the Congolese province of Equateur. Any source advising against all travel to the continent of Africa is alarmist and unreliable.