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2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

edited September 2014 in - West Africa
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.

Comments

  • Is there ebola in South Africa? I'm travelling to Johannesburg... is it safe?
  • Hi Autobot,
    There have been no cases of Ebola in South Africa. You may encounter some increased security or health scans at the South African airports but that is just because the health authorities are being extra cautious about ensuring the disease doesn't spread into SA. I live in Cape Town and I can assure you the Ebola outbreak has not hit South Africa. It is perfectly safe to travel here. At the tip of the continent South Africa is pretty far removed from the drama at any rate.
  • Are Mozambique and Botswana considered at risk of Ebola? I am considering visiting one or both countries early next year and just want to be sure.
  • Hi SallyG, no, neither of those countries have reported any Ebola cases and because of their location in southern Africa they are not considered particularly at risk. As you only want to travel next year, however, keep an eye on Ebola developments till then. As of right now travel to either Botswana or Mozambique would be absolutely safe.
  • Just as an update to this thread, the Ebola outbreak continues to spread and there have now been close to 4,900 deaths from the disease, the vast majority of which have been in the three West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. 

    Importantly, Nigeria has officially been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization and there is no longer any threat of catching the disease in Nigeria.

    Less positively, the first Ebola case has now been confirmed in Mali, a West African country neighbouring Guinea.

    Meanwhile, outside of West Africa, Ebola cases have been confirmed in the US (Texas and New York) and Spain.

    An increasing number of countries are implementing travel bans for passengers arriving from infected countries, and others are increasing security and health scans at airports to screen arriving passengers. Anybody travelling from or via West Africa is advised to check up on possible Ebola travel restrictions at their destination. 
  • What is the situation currently in Congo (Rep.)? Is it safe to go, and what are the health risks? Thanks in advance!
  • edited December 2016
    Hi abctraveller, here is a list of the "Need To Know" info on Congo. In a nutshell, Congo is relatively safe to travel to, but precautions need to be taken and travelers are advised to stay alert at all times. In terms of health, measures have been made to monitor the spread of Ebola, and certain vaccinations are required - more of that on the link I posted. Hope that helps!
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