Ebola Outbreak- How Safe is it to Travel

The recent outbreak of Ebola has caused widespread fear not only in West African countries but possibly the world over. With a fatality rate of up to 90%, Ebola is one of the most lethal viral diseases with currently no effective vaccine or treatment to prevent it. It has taken many casualties, spreading to multiple countries, and if unchecked, can turn into a major outbreak which would take months to contain. Ebola is caused by the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from infected people, dead or alive. As the Ebola virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system ultimately leading to organ failure. One can even catch the disease from infected wild animals, such a monkeys, forest antelopes or bats. Since the condition is contagious, migratory populations are most likely to get infected and transmit the virus. According to health reports, on an average, 80% of the people infected with this virus do not survive; therefore, it is important that as soon as they notice Ebola like symptoms, they consult a doctor immediately.

The early symptoms of Ebola disease, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever start from 2 to 21 days following exposure to the virus with fever muscle pains, weakness, stomach pain, headache and sore throat. The next stage of the disease starts with vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes all over the body and malfunction of the liver and kidneys. Some patients even have severe internal and external bleeding resulting in multi organ failure. Doctors can diagnose the condition based on the symptoms, but to confirm the diagnosis, they may prescribe tests like complete blood count, coagulation test, viral antigen tests and a liver function test. Since there is no definitive treatment for Ebola virus as of now, doctors treat the symptoms to avoid secondary infections and complications like pneumonia or liver failure.

Since there are no safe vaccinations currently available for Ebola virus, preventive measures are the need of the hour. Basic hygiene is vital and simple things like washing your hands with soap or antiseptics, drinking water from a clean source and maintaining general hygiene can all act as good precautionary measures. Ebola virus can be easily killed by soap, bleach, sunlight and high temperature. In general, people should avoid crowded places or places that have had an outbreak. One should avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids of a patient. People should avoid contact with wild animals, alive or dead. Habitats that might be populated by bats, such as caves, isolated shelters or mining sites should also be avoided. Travellers should be aware of the symptoms of Ebola and seek immediate medical care if they notice any of them.

Ebola can spread from one country to another when people travel. It is a good idea for travellers to identify appropriate health care resources in the country they are visiting. In addition, they should follow the advice provided by national authorities on travel to countries where has been an Ebola outbreak. However, travellers should be aware that one cannot contact Ebola virus by casual contact such as handling money or swimming in a pool. It also does not transmit through the air like influenza does.

Since Ebola virus disease has a high fatality rate, people travelling to the affected countries should take all possible preventive measures to eliminate the risk of infection. There are travel restrictions in many African countries now and people are advised not to travel to the three most affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Travellers must buy travel insurance before they travel; they should ensure that in case of any illness, medical evacuation is covered by their travel insurance, to limit exposure in local health facilities due to an increased risk of infection. Though travel insurance may not be a preventive measure against the Ebola virus, it may make it easier to get special assistance services. Since the standards of emergency health care in Ebola affected countries are well below international standards, options for emergency medical care may be severely limited. For this reason, travellers should go by country travel advisories and monitor the media closely before they travel.