The news coming out of West Africa this week as been alarming—to say the least. The latest outbreak of Ebola, which started in Guinea earlier this year, has now spread to Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. (There’s even been a suspected Ebola death in Saudi Arabia.) To date, nearly 1,000 people have died of Ebola—a number that will surely increase in the coming weeks as public-health officials struggle to contain the virus. The crisis is such that the World Health Organization has now declared the outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern."
So…what does this mean for travelers?
The U.S. Department of State has not issued any travel bans to and from the impacted countries, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is discouraging all unnecessary travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, until the outbreak is contained. As yet, the CDC has only issued a travel alert for Nigeria, encouraging travelers to take extra precautions while there. (There are less than a dozen confirmed cases in the country.) This may change if the virus spreads. There have been no confimed cases of Ebola in either Eastern or Southern Africa—the main centers of safari tourism in Africa.
British Airways, meanwhile, has discontinued flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone through August; Emirates has suspended flights into Guinea. Some intra-Africa flights into the capitals of Liberia (Monrovia) and Sierra Leone (Freetown) have also been taken offline.
Skittish fliers, take note: the virus is not airborne, making it more difficult to catch than respiratory diseases, such as SARS or the flu. It spreads, instead, by contact with bodily fluids. This puts health-care workers and immediate family members in high risk—people who are in close contact with infected individuals. The CDC notes that Ebola can only be transmitted by individuals who are experiencing symptoms, which makes it unlikely that the virus could spread on a plane unless a passenger were actively sick. To that end, the CDC is working with officials in West Africa implement procedures to prevent sick passengers from getting on planes. Stateside, it is helping border patrols officials to screen arriving travelers for symptoms. The CDC is also advising airlines on how to contain and disinfect facilities “on the remote possibility that an ill passenger enters the U.S.”