Ever since Thomas Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, got on a plane in Monrovia and travelled to Dallas with the virus incubating in his body, there has been a lot of confusion about the risk of contracting the disease during travel.
Now, with the news that the second Dallas health worker to contract Ebola flew from Cleveland the day before reporting to hospital with a fever, worry about the virus during air travel is likely to peak.
Here’s a guide to how you can and can't get Ebola on a plane (or, for that matter, anywhere else).
Ways you can get it
Ways you can't get Ebola
Still, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered this cautionary note: "If a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease."
This happens rarely and usually only affects health workers or those caring for the sick.
Low chance of transmission The possibility of transmission on a plane by coughing or sneezing exists but it is small. It would have to go something like this: an Ebola patient would have to cough on the hand of the person sitting next to them, releasing some amount of mucus or saliva.
The person being coughed on would then have to, say, rub his or her eye with that hand, allowing the disease into the body.
The bottom line: Ebola is difficult, but not impossible, to catch even in confined spaces such as planes.
Ebola isn’t easy to transmit. The scenarios under which Ebola spreads are very specific.
As the World Health Organisation, which does not recommend travel bans, put it: "On the small chance that someone on the plane is sick with Ebola, the likelihood of other passengers and crew having contact with their body fluids is even smaller."
They also point out that people who are sick with Ebola are so unwell that they cannot travel.
Ebola doesn’t spread quickly, either. An Ebola victim usually only infects one or two other people. Compare that with HIV, which creates four secondary infections, or measles with 17.
So far, there have been three known Ebola cases originating in the US. There are more than 8 000 in West Africa. That’s where experts say the worry and fear about Ebola contagion should be placed.
SymptomsThe Ebola virus is a haemorrhagic fever that’s fatal in about half of all cases.
Ebola typically strikes like the worst and most humiliating flu you could imagine. People start sweating and have body aches and pains. Then they begin to vomit and have uncontrollable diarrhoea.
These symptoms can appear anywhere between two and 21 days after exposure to the virus. Sometimes people with Ebola go into shock. Sometimes they bleed. Again, about half of those infected with the virus die, and this usually happens fairly quickly – within a few days to a few weeks of getting sick.
The others return to a normal life after a months-long recovery period that can include hair loss, sensory changes, weakness, fatigue, headaches, and eye and liver inflammation.
There are five strains of Ebola, four of which have caused the disease in humans: Zaire, Sudan, Taï Forest and Bundibugyo.
The fifth, Reston, has infected nonhuman primates only.
Although scientists haven’t been able to confirm this, the animal host of Ebola is widely believed to be the fruit bat, and the virus only occasionally makes the leap into humans.
The current outbreak involves the Zaire strain, which was discovered in 1976, the year Ebola was first identified in what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
The same year, the virus was also discovered in South Sudan.
"very rare"The Ebola virus is extremely rare. People are much more likely to die from Aids, respiratory infections or diarrhoea.
Since 1976, there have only been about 20 known Ebola outbreaks. Until last year, the total impact of these outbreaks included 2 357 cases and 1 548 deaths, according to the CDC.
They all occurred in isolated or remote areas of Africa, and Ebola never had a chance to go very far.
And that’s what makes the 2014 outbreak so remarkable: the virus has spread to five countries in Africa plus the US, and has already infected more than 8 000 people and has killed more than half of them.
That is more than triple the sum total of all previous known outbreaks combined.
This article was originally published on vox.com. The original
article can be found here
The scale of the current outbreak of Ebola viral disease in West Africa has led to mounting fears around the world, including in South Africa. Lucille Blumberg, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases' (NCID) deputy director, said there was a chance of the virus being imported to South Africa, although the country was classified as low-risk.
"We are not talking about an outbreak in South Africa. But there is a chance of a traveller with Ebola coming into any country in the world," she said.
The health department’s spokesperson, Joe Maila, said that, although the fear was understandable, preventive measures put in place by the health minister would minimise the risk of an Ebola outbreak in South Africa.
"These measures include the screening that we do at airports," Maila said.
Heat scanners have been placed at OR Tambo International Airport and Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg to identify travellers with temperatures, which is one of the symptoms of Ebola.
"At the time we had ascertained that Gauteng was the most vulnerable but our surveillance is ongoing and scanners will be put in place in Durban and Cape Town if the need arises," Maila said.
"We have issued travel restrictions – not bans – to and from the affected countries.
"We are appealing to the public to put off any nonessential travel to those countries until the situation has been stabilised."
The advisory restricts travel between South Africa and Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Even diplomats and healthcare workers travelling between South Africa and the affected countries need permission from the health department to do so.
Four countries – Nigeria, Senegal, the United States and Spain – had reported imported cases of Ebola, the NCID said in a statement this week.
Since the outbreak was first confirmed by the World Health Organisation in March, more than 4 500 people have died from the disease, most of them in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Blumberg said: "The most important thing is that cases be recognised early.
"Anyone dealing with a patient needs to be protected. We need to reduce the risk of spread, but we are not going to have an outbreak like they have in West Africa. We are quite prepared to prevent that from happening."
According to Maila: "Although we are doing our best to prevent any cases of Ebola in the country, in the event that a case is reported, there are 11 hospitals in South Africa that are equipped to deal with the disease.
"These hospitals have been equipped with sufficient personal protection equipment to protect our health workers and the isolations facilities in these hospitals are adequate to be able to contain the virus. I can still confirm that there is no case of Ebola in South Africa. All of the suspected cases in the country tested negative for the virus," said Maila. – Ina Skosana
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