Many otherwise-adventurous travelers are wary of venturing to West Africa in the wake of the current Ebola outbreak—and not without justification. With more than 1,000 deaths so far, this is the largest Ebola outbreak the world has seen, and there is no vaccine or known cure. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to avoid unnecessary travel to West Africa, and the Department of State has issued travel warnings for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria.
Federal agents at U.S. airports are monitoring travelers coming from Africa for any flu-like symptoms, and the WHO urges infected countries to conduct “exit-screening” at “international airports, seaports and major land crossings.” Passengers boarding planes in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are being screened thoroughly.
Clearly, the ebola outbreak is causing much concern—both rational and irrational—and the travel world is experiencing its impact.
The airline and tourism industries have indicated the outbreak’s potential effect on travelers. Emirates and British Airways have both canceled flights to impacted countries, and Delta Airlines has accommodated worried travelers by issuing vouchers that allow ticket-holders to push their flights back, giving them time to evaluate the outbreak. Many universities’ study aboard programs have been suspended, and tour agencies operating in Africa have received a surge of cancelations. Needless to say, the tourism industry throughout the continent has suffered.
There is more to the story, though, that many quick-to-cancel travelers might not have understood.
First and foremost, travelers should know that Ebola is preventable, and the main reason it has spread seemingly uncontrollably through West Africa is lack of health infrastructure and poor understanding of basic precautions locally.
Ebola is be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, sweat, or blood from animals or humans. It is not airborne or transmitted by casual contact. This does not mean the disease should be taken lightly, but it can be prevented largely with soap and water or anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. Travelers are also urged not to eat bush meat—that is, meat from the remains of monkeys, bats, or rats—as it may be responsible for transferring Ebola from animals to humans.
In other words, the magnitude of the outbreak is largely due to local circumstances that don’t necessarily apply to travelers that prepare accordingly. Some may say avoiding travel in West Africa is excessive, and many less-worried travelers are jumping at the chance to visit Africa’s most popular destinations without having to fight crowds. Before booking, keep up-to-date on your country’s travel recommendations (particularly as borders close)—for our U.S. friends, check out the most recent advisories from the CDC and State Department to help inform your trip plans.
Have you traveled throughout West Africa? What has your experience been—past or present?
By Beth Lebens