Africa travel. Should you be worried about Ebola?
The news is full of stories about the Ebola virus. With 50 – 60% of infected people dying from the disease, no known cure or treatment and emergency measures taken by governments and airlines, the prospect of the disease spreading from Liberia and Sierra Leone to Europe is frightening indeed.
The situation seems to be getting worse too, with over 1000 people now confirmed dead from the virus. British Airways has cancelled all flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until 31 August 2014 “due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries" and the World Health Organisation has declared it a ‘global health emergency’.
But is it really that bad? What is the risk to us?
We did a little reading to find out if we should be worried.
What is Ebola? Why is it so dangerous?
Ebola virus disease is a viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF). There is no vaccine or cure.
The incubation period is between two and 21 days.
Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches and weakness. As the infection progresses, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, shortness of breath, confusion and haemorrhage can occur. This can lead to multi-organ failure, shock and death.
How is Ebola spread?
Ebola is not an airborne disease. Most human infections result from direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions from an infected human. Ebola has also been reported following contact with the tissues of infected animals such as non-human primates and bats.
Where is Ebola coming from?
Sierra Leone is considered to be the epicentre of the epidemic as it has reported the largest number of new cases. As of 27 July, the cumulative total number of cases in the country was 533 (473 confirmed, 38 probable and 22 suspected), and 233 deaths (figures from National Travel Health Network and Centre).
If you are booked to go to Africa, should you be worried?
It depends on where you are going, but more than likely, no. Africa is a huge continent. The US, China, Eastern Europe, Japan, India and the UK and could fit within its land mass. That is huge.
As Ebola is not airborne you would have to be in direct contact with an infected person or eat infected bush meat (such as bat or primate) to catch it, so the chances of being infected in South Africa or Morocco (for example) if you observed the safety precautions below, are extremely remote.
However, if you are due to fly to Nigeria (which has declared a state of emergency in the past few days), Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia then your risk is higher, even though the risk is still considered as VERY LOW by Public Health England. The exception would be people engaged in humanitarian activities where there is direct contact with infected people.
Where do you stand with travel insurance?
As travel insurers we take our advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and will only insure you for travel to places where the FCO does not advise against all travel or all but essential travel. Also, cancellation cover does not include the fear of pandemic or infection and, unfortunately, will not cover any changes in the FCO advisories, even if it comes after you have booked and before you travel.
What if you decide to cancel your trip?
If you decided to travel to a country against the advice of the FCO you will not be insured.
However, currently there are no Ebola-based advisories (14th August), only those that refer to general safety, terrorism or conflict. Whilst these still apply, there is nothing to stop anyone travelling to other parts of affected countries.
The FCO only says “Following an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia British nationals should carefully assess the need to travel to these countries, and if travelling to them, should ensure that they have adequate arrangements in place for onward travel/exit and have adequate emergency health provision.”
What if you have already booked a trip?
If you booked a ticket or holiday to a country with Ebola or a country nearby that the FCO considers ‘safe’ (no advisories against travel) then you would not be insured for cancellation if you decided not to travel as it would be considered to be ‘a disinclination’ to travel.
What can you do to keep safe?
The following precautions are recommended by The National Travel Health Network and Centre for traveller heading for areas with on-going cases:
- Avoid contact with symptomatic patients and their bodily fluids
- Avoid contact with corpses and/or bodily fluids from deceased patients.
- Avoid close contact with live or dead wild animals (including monkeys, forest antelopes, rodents and bats)
- Avoid consumption of "bush meat"
- Wash and peel fruits and vegetables before consumption
- Practise safe sex
- Follow strict hand washing routines.
What if you think you may have been exposed to Ebola?
The National Travel Health Network and Centre says “Travellers who have been potentially exposed to Ebola virus should seek medical attention immediately if they experience any symptoms consistent with Ebola within the first 21 days of return to the UK.”