Ebola in Africa – How concerned should you be?
The 2014 Ebola Virus outbreak in West Africa has been and will be of great concern to all – especially travellers. The reason for this great concern can be attributed to the globalised world we live in, where international travel has become easy and careers reach across borders. But does this outbreak mean you need to cancel your trip to Southern or East Africa? How concerned should you be?
Let’s quickly look at the facts regarding the 2014 Ebola Virus outbreak. Firstly, it is the largest outbreak in history, mainly because it hasn’t been contained properly. Factors that contributed to this are the areas of the outbreak and lack of medical facilities and consequent slow responses to the virus, especially in terms of isolation/quarantine and other precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
The outbreak started in West Africa, involving the counties of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
So what are the risks in Southern and East Africa regarding Ebola? Of course there is always a chance that the Ebola virus could cross borders to other countries, but the reality is that Southern and East Africa are located far from currently affected areas, and in fact Europe is at much greater risk if these distances are taken into account.
Just to give you an idea:
- Cape Town, South Africa – 5797km
- Arusha, Tanzania – 5694km
- Nairobi, Kenya – 5656km
- Maun, Botswana – 5114km
Europe and South America
- Madrid, Spain – 3600 km
- London, UK – 4936km
- Recife, Brazil – 3026km
So far there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in either Southern or East Africa and most travellers from West Africa tend to have Europe and North America as their final destinations as opposed to other regions of Africa. Therefore we are not experiencing the outbreak within our regions of operation.
What you need to know about Ebola, the key facts:
- Ebola virus disease, previously known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- The virus was originally and can still be transmitted to people from wild animals. It is contagious and spreads in the human population through human-to-human contact.
- The main form of transmission is through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids – through broken skin or mucous membranes (eyes/mouth), blood or other bodily fluids (stool, urine, saliva, semen). Contaminated objects such as clothing or linen also pose a great risk.
- The virus can be contracted through the bodily fluids of a deceased Ebola virus patient too.
- The fatality rate of Ebola is around 50%. This number has ranged from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
- The first recorded outbreaks were usually limited to remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests. The current outbreak in West Africa involves rural areas, as well as major urban areas.
- There are important measures that need to be taken to control the outbreak. Community engagement is one of the keys to success. To control the outbreak, a package of interventions which includes the following needs to be implemented: case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilisation.
- There is hope for Ebola patients, early diagnosis and care for patients through rehydration and other symptomatic treatment does seem to improve the patient’s chances of survival.
- There is as yet no approved treatment proven to treat the virus effectively, but various blood, immunological and drug therapies are currently being researched and developed.
- There are also no vaccines for the virus, but 2 potential candidates are currently being evaluated.
How are Southern and East Africa responding to the potential threat of Ebola?
Governments within the countries we operate have put in place precautionary measures to ensure that Ebola does not spread to these parts of the continent. Medical resources in our regions of operation are often better than those in West Africa. The precautionary steps that parts of Europe and America are only starting to implement now have been in place here since the early days of this outbreak. Infrared Thermal Imaging Cameras are in use at International Airports and other ports of entry to identify anyone who may have a fever. Rigorous checks on travel history and interviews where necessary are also part of the screening process. Any individuals suspected of possibly carrying the virus are put under surveillance. Response units have been put up and the relevant personnel trained to react accordingly in the event of a suspected case.
This information was accurate at the time of posting and based on the latest information available. We do advise that you consult with our relevant destination specialist for updated information, as well as consult the World Health Organisation’s latest on the Ebola Virus Outbreak (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/en/).