British, Canadian, and US public health agencies have raised Ebola virus travel alert levels (avoid non-essential travel) for large segments of West Africa as death tolls attributable to this disease in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone mount rapidly. As of August 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 1,323 infected by the virus, 729 confirmed dead, (57 of those deaths in just the last four days), and a death rate of at least 60 per cent of those infected.
What does this mean for you? No panic. No need to cancel travel plans. But use caution—especially when passing through airport hubs with large international traffic patterns. Make sure your travel insurance is in place. You may be asked to prove it, as many customs, immigration, and border control officers are on heightened vigilance for transiting passengers who look as if they might be ill or feverish. And stay attuned to government advisories. You can easily get these on your smart phone.
As international organizations and health ministries of the affected countries are pleading for doctors, nurses, and health care professionals to help them contain the spread of infection, many US and British medical, missionary, and volunteer aid workers are being recalled or ordered home.
WHO refers to Ebola as one of the deadliest viruses known to man. There is no vaccine for it, no cure, and the current outbreak is running a 60 per cent mortality rate, so far. Dr. Bert Janssens, Director of Operations at Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) describes the outbreak as “out of control.”
According to a report from CNN, a naturalized American citizen who worked in Liberia, flew to Nigeria to attend a conference. After exhibiting symptoms upon arrival, he was hospitalized and died five days later. He’s the first American to die in the outbreak, though two other US aid workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola and are being treated.
Though public health officials in Europe, Asia, and North America have expressed confidence they have so far contained the spread to Western Africa, they are mindful of the way in which SARS raced around the world in 2003.
WHO says the risk of travellers contracting Ebola is low because it requires close contact with a carrier of the virus through bodily fluids, sweat, saliva, urine, or blood and is not communicable through casual contact or by breathing the same air as an infected person. However, the terrifying speed with which it has spread so far defies confidence that it can be contained.
A common sense approach should be used in regards to this disease: Observe heightened hygiene measures, and avoid contact with bodily fluids and with individuals exhibiting symptoms. Symptoms at first resemble flu, with headaches, fever, aches and pains, and in a few days, are followed by severe vomiting, diarrhea, and internal bleeding.
Stay with us. We will be passing on important advisories so long as the threat to travellers continues.