In response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak and to augment global efforts in containing the spread of the disease, various international organisations – the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Airports Council International (ACI), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) – made a decision to create a Travel and Transport Task Force. The said task force is responsible for monitoring current updates and developments on the issue. Moreover, it is also in charge in generating useful information for the travel and tourism sector and travellers.
A brief history of the EVD outbreak states that it started in Guinea last December 2013. Recently, the outbreak resulted to community transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon. For example, there was an incident about an ill traveller from Liberia who, through direct contact, infected a group of people in Nigeria. Accordingly, last August 8, 2014, the WHO announced the EVD outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) based upon the International Health Regulations (2005).
Risk of Contamination
When it comes to air transport, the risk of acquiring the Ebola virus is low since it can only be acquired through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals – contacts which are less likely to happen for an average traveller. Despite the low risk, travellers need to avoid such contacts at all times to ensure maximum safety. Also, it is advised to constantly observe proper hygiene. Another reason why getting the infected aboard a plane is low is because ill persons generally feel so sick that they can’t travel and as already mentioned, infection occurs only when there is direct contact on the infected person’s body fluids.
As for a traveller who visits affected countries, the risk of getting infected with the virus is low. However, if the traveller stayed in areas where there are recent reported cases, he should immediately take medical action at the first sign of illness. Doing so can improve prognosis.
Places where Contamination Usually Occurs
There are two settings where most infections actually occur. First is in the community when family members or friends take care of the infected person. Further, infection can result whenever funeral preparation and burial ceremonies do not adhere to infection prevention and control measures. Second is in clinics or other health care settings. The infection occurs due to any unprotected contact by health care workers, patients, and other persons to the infected ones. For instance, in Nigeria, infections come only to those persons who had direct contact with a single traveller.
Symptoms of the EVD are fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, and in some cases, bleeding. Remember that the infected person will be able to contaminate others with the virus the moment he manifests the symptoms. Incubation period is 2 to 21 days.
Coordinated International Efforts
To succeed in stopping the EVD transmission to other countries, strong international collaboration and support is very much needed. All affected countries are requested to perform exit screening on all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings to check on unexplained febrile illness. Unless the travel is made for medical evacuation, a person with illness consistent with Ebola infection must not be permitted to travel. The same applies with international travel of Ebola contacts or cases.
On the other hand, non – affected countries must be alert in detecting and containing new cases. At the same time, they should refrain from actions that might interfere with international travel and trade. Currently, non – affected countries that do not share borders with affected countries need not impose travel restrictions as well as conduct active screening of passengers on arrival at seaports or airports.
The Ebola Emergency Committee of the WHO does not advise any ban on international trade. Instead, persons travelling toward affected countries have to be equipped with accurate and pertinent information on the EVD outbreak to reduce risks and ultimately prevent getting infected.