The Effects of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak
on Travel in Africa
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
issued a warning for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West
African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
In a definitive response to the Ebola outbreak sweeping Western
Africa, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered the
closure of all but three Liberian land borders. She is also restricting
large public gatherings, quarantining communities hit hard by the
disease, and implementing a massive preventive education campaign in an
aggressive multi-pronged attempt to contain the virus.
Air travel in and out of Liberia
is allowed at two airports, but they present â€œstringent preventive
measures, according to President Sirleaf. Despite the precautions, at
least one airlines is no longer offering flights into or out of
Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. After last week, when a top Liberian
official who flew from Liberia to Nigeria died of the disease, Arik
Air, Nigeria's largest airline, suspended services to all three
Current Ebola Epidemic in West Africa
Ebola virus disease (EVD)
is an often fatal Viral Hemorrhagic Disease. Once infected, the
symptoms present as flu-like with a headache, sore throat, aches, and
nausea then progress to diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding, and
death. There is no medication or vaccine for Ebola, and of the five
subspecies, the current outbreak is the deadliest with up to a 90%
fatality rate. Early treatment is the best chance for survival.
Ebola first appeared in 1976 in the Republic of Congo and was named
after the river near where the outbreak began. Once the virus, which is
thought to originate from African fruit-eating bats, was contained,
there was not a single case between 1979 and 1993. It resurfaced most
notably in 1995, 2000, 2007 and 2014. The current outbreak is by far
the worst and to date has resulted in 15,261 cases and 11,325 deaths
(as of April 1, 2016).
How the Virus Resists Current Containment Efforts
According to the World Health Organization, one of the problems
with the disease is that it presents as flu-like symptoms and
progresses rapidly. Often the first clue that they are dealing with
Ebola is when health care workers begin to contract the virus. A top
Liberian doctor died of Ebola over the weekend, and two U.S. aid
workers are confirmed to have the disease there. In Sierra Leone, that
country's top Ebola doctor contracted the disease last week too, but is
currently responding to treatment.
The big difference between the most recent outbreak and
previous outbreaks is that the disease has been reported in 60 separate
locations. What started in southern Guinea, soon spread to parts of
Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the countries come together and the
population is very mobile. Doctors Without Borders
was the only organization treating the outbreak and quickly became
overwhelmed by the number of cases. That remains the biggest challenge
in containing the virus, not enough health care workers to go to all of
the new locations.
World Health Organization (WHO) Not Ready to Recommend Travel Restrictions
Despite that the Ministries of Health from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia
have collectively reported an additional 45 new cases and 28 new deaths
from EVD between July 18th and July 20th, the WHO is not issuing any
business or travel restrictions to any of the affected countries at
this time. They are monitoring the containment
of the virus, and estimate that it will be several months before that
goal is reached. The definition of containment is the passage of 42
days without any new cases reported.
Liberia Mandates Precautions for Air Travelers
Although the U.S. Department of State and the World Health
Organization are not prohibiting U.S. citizens from traveling to the
countries, Liberiaâ€™s only open borders are one between Liberia and
Guinea, one between Liberia and Sierra Leone, and one between Liberia
and both of the other two countries.
Roberts International Airport and James Spriggs Payne Airport will
remain open, but travelers passing through the airports should expect
to go through mandatory Ebola prevention and testing centers. Travelers
should also note that Liberiaâ€™s president has mandated that
restaurants and other businesses serving the public screen short Ebola
education films, and has also authorized security forces to commandeer
vehicles if necessary to help with the health response.
As of publication, neither Guinea nor Sierra Leone have similar
restrictions or precautions in place for travelers. If you have
experience traveling to Guinea, Liberia or Sierre Leone, please submit
your tips in the comments below.
Ebola Cases Confirmed in Other African Countries
Besides those mentioned above, there have been confirmed cases
of Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon, South Sudan,
Ivory Coast, Uganda and Republic of the Congo (ROC). One case was
reported to have been imported to South Africa. While the risk factor
is far lower in these countries, travelers should take necessary
precautions and be conscious of the dangers. You can inform yourself by
visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Ebola information page
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