The current Ebola virus outbreak has created a great deal of media interest and you may have questions about the risks associated with the virus and your holiday plans, such as is it safe to fly and are there any bans or restrictions in places? ABTA has put together the following advice which should help answer those questions plus links to the relevant Government and Health authorities for anyone who wants more in depth advice.
The Ebola virus is a rare but serious viral infection that emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan in 1976. It is not airborne; it spreads through direct contact with blood, organs, bodily fluids or secretions of infected people or animals.
The current Ebola outbreak has been very largely restricted to three countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have been a small number of cases in Senegal and Nigeria but in both cases the spread of the virus was quickly contained and both countries are now officially Ebola free. You may have seen reports on individual cases in other parts of the world, but these will have been almost exclusively medical staff flown home after treating Ebola victims in Africa, or in many cases, they turned out not to be Ebola cases but some other disease.
Although Ebola is a very serious disease the first thing to remember is that it is only contagious when victims are displaying symptoms and these symptoms are very dramatic and noticeable. Even then, it can only be passed on by direct contact with bodily fluids, which is why many of the people who have caught it have been medical staff who have been in daily contact with Ebola patients.
The travel industry is liaising with the Government and Public Health authorities for up to date information and advice. Airline and cruise ship staff are trained to keep a look out for anyone displaying symptoms of an infectious disease, such as a high temperature and heavy sweating and will not allow passengers displaying symptoms on board. This is their policy at all times, not just because of Ebola. Travel companies also follow Foreign Office and World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and for some time now the Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. UK airlines also separately took the decision to suspend flights to these three countries.
The WHO has not restricted international travel and the risk for travellers becoming infected with Ebola virus is low where there has been no direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected patient. During an outbreak of this nature, the WHO reviews the public health situation regularly and recommends any travel restrictions when needed.
The FCO also has health advice within each country’s travel advice page.
The incubation period (time from infection to when symptoms appear) ranges from 2 to 21 days. The typical signs and symptoms of Ebola infection are sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is then followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and stomach pain. Some patients may develop a rash, red eyes, hiccups, internal and external bleeding. Ebola haemorrhagic fever is fatal in between 50 to 90% of all clinically ill cases. Ebola is killed by exposure to soap or bleach.
Firstly, remember that Ebola is only a significant risk in three West African countries and there are no travel bans or restrictions in place in other countries due to Ebola. In other parts of the world as there have only been a handful of isolated cases, and these have nearly all been medical staff who have been flown home after treating Ebola cases, the risk is low. The situation worldwide is being monitored very closely by the World Health Organisation and the Foreign Office and if they felt that a country were significantly affected by Ebola they would issue warnings and advise against travel to that destination; the Foreign Office has already done this for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At this point your tour operator would offer you the option to defer your date of travel, go to another destination or have a full refund. If there is no advice against travel and you still wish to cancel, normal booking terms and conditions would apply.
For those of you who would like more detail on Ebola and the work being done to fight it, here are some useful links to various international, government and health organisations.
WHO Travel and transport risk assessment Interim guidance for public health authorities and the transport sector
WHO: Ebola Response Roadmap update