Ebola Outbreak Takes Hold in West Africa
Ebola virus disease is one of the most dangerous health hazards in the world. It brings with it an extremely high fatality rate, and has been known to affect hundreds of people each year. Unfortunately, a new outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has infected tens of thousands of individuals and claimed thousands of lives in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other areas.
While some experimental treatments show promise, it is too early to know whether they are effective. There are currently no FDA approved vaccines for Ebola.
Though the potential Ebola will spread to Western countries appears to have minimized in recent months, high levels of caution are still necessary for anyone travelling through the affected regions. This outbreak highlights the importance of proper safety procedures and international health insurance for expats. Everyone living nearby is at risk of contracting Ebola, and should prepare accordingly.
Number of Ebola Beginning Slow Decline, But Vigilance Still Needed
While cases of Ebola spiked across Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone during the past several months, October showed the rate of Ebola infections was slowing. In particular, infections in Liberia slowed significantly. However, WHO officials still advise caution. Bruce Aylward, a top WHO official, warned that even a few unsafe Ebola-related burials could cause the disease to re-emerge in areas previously thought contained. As of March 24, 2015, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have experienced 10,338 total Ebola-related deaths, 14,712 laboratory-confirmed cases, and 24,927 total Ebola cases (suspected, probable, confirmed).
Though Ebola transmission in affected countries is slowing, extreme vigilance is still necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. The case of Thomas Duncan, the first diagnosed instance of Ebola in the United States, shows how seemingly healthy people can return home only to find they have actually become infected while abroad. Duncan was traveling in Liberia and returned to the United States, where he began to show symptoms of infection four days after travel. He died on October 8. Though three people became infected as a result of treating Duncan, the CDC reports these as the only confirmed cases of Ebola in the U.S..
Recently, cases of the Ebola virus have appeared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As of November 20, 2014, the CDC reported a total of 66 cases of Ebola virus in the DRC, 38 laboratory confirmed cases, and 49 Ebola-related deaths. However, this outbreak appears to be independent from the current Ebola situation in West Africa. See the full risk assessment guide on the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more information about security risks in the DRC.
Ways to Stay Protected From Ebola
While the incidents of Ebola in the United States and other first-world countries is still very low, the CDC, WHO and other health leaders have developed the following guidelines to help travelers avoid becoming infected with Ebola.
Avoid Traveling to Affected Countries When Possible
The CDC recommends recommended travelers avoid nonessential travel to entering Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone. It is also recommended travelers practice enhanced precautions when traveling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
If Travel to These Countries is Necessary, Take Extreme Precautions
Travelers who are obligated to enter Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia or other Ebola-affected countries should follow these CDC guidelines while in the country to minimize their chance of infection:
- Avoid contact with blood or body fluids of any person who is sick with Ebola
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with blood or body fluids of an Ebola-infected person
- Do not come into contact with raw or undercooked meats (bushmeat)
- Do not enter hospitals where infected patients are receiving treatment (the local US Embassy is able to provide the location of suitable facilities if medical treatment is needed)
- Seek medical care immediately if experiencing any symptom of Ebola, including fever of 100.4 F/38 C or higher, unexplained bleeding or bruising, severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, or muscle pain
Once travelers return to the United States, any persons possibly exposed to the Ebola virus should seek medical evaluations from their doctors to rule out infection. They should also take the following steps for 21 days after returning:
- Monitor health, including temperature
- Watch for Ebola symptoms, including severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, or unexplained bleeding or bruising
- Immediately stay away from other people and crowded places if any symptoms begin to appear
If travelers begin to experience symptoms of Ebola within this 21 day period should call their doctors and alert them of the symptoms as well as the possible exposure to Ebola before arriving at a hospital or medical office. This will help protect doctors, hospital workers, and other medical professionals who may treat potentially infected patients.
Be Prepared and Use Personal Protective Equipment When Treating Those Infected
Individuals traveling for humanitarian purposes and working with Ebola patients must exercise extreme caution when interacting with those who are infected. Even a brief safety lapse can result in infection due to frequent exposure to blood and body fluids of Ebola patients. When traveling to infected areas with the purpose of treating Ebola patients, make sure to receive proper training and protection well before treatment occurs. Take safeguard measures to make sure Ebola coverage is included in your health coverage plan.
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