Ebola Warning: Travel with Care—But Travel

With Ebola reaching out across borders, international air travellers can expect increasing delays, more rigorous inspections of personal goods (checked and carry-on), intrusions into their private lives, and the humiliations that are part of having their temperatures read and their health discussed openly by people they don’t know. What a way to start or end a vacation.

Already, fever screening of air passengers arriving in the US from Ebola-host countries has started at New York’s John F. Kennedy International, and within the next few days will be activated at Newark Liberty Airport, Washington Dulles, Atlanta Hartsfield, and Chicago O’Hare. US authorities claim that approximately 150 people from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea arrive in the country daily, and 95 per cent of them first touch down at these airports.

Screening has already begun at London’s Heathrow and will soon be started at Gatwick.

Related: Ebola: Danger to Travellers? Or Crisis Overblown?

No commitment yet from Canada, but the access our long border allows to American treatment centres will surely be tested soon. It’s too convenient to ignore.

Where the screening goes from there depends on how many infected or suspected travellers the program can detect—or how patient, or impatient, air passengers get.

As for Canadians making plans for winter travel, some intensive homework on travel routes and stopovers should be mandatory. Belgium is great place to let your hair down and eat well. But it’s also a busy transit point for passengers from west and central Africa to connect to flights to New York or Montreal.

Does that mean you shouldn’t travel to Belgium for the Christmas season? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Go, and enjoy yourself. But don’t do anything stupid.

If you don’t already know how to minimize your risk, you’re best off staying at home by the fireplace. But if you follow just a few common-sense rules you’ll be fine:

Related: Ebola: Deadly, but Avoidable
  • Be careful who you touch—bodily fluids come in many varieties. Sweat is one of them.
  • Forget the growing social habit of hugging people you hardly know. Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Don’t travel if you feel unwell.
  • Wash your hands. Often.
  • Keep sanitizer at hand.
  • If you’re flying, watch your seatmate. If he or she looks untidy or sneezes often, move to another seat. This is no time for social pleasantries.
  • Don’t share food or drinks.
  • Most important: Buy travel insurance and keep your contracts handy in case you need to go to a hospital.

And remember that Ebola strikes quickly. Once you are infected you may start to experience symptoms within 5 to 21 days. That’s unlike HIV, which you can carry around for over a year before it manifests symptoms. Don’t wait to get to a hospital at home, if you have access to one wherever you are. You don’t want to be travelling and spreading this virus in your wake.

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