Ebola: what your travelling employees should know

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The World Health Organisation has urged governments and airlines not to impose blanket bans on trade and travel on Ebola-affected nations, noting that with simple precautions, the risk for travellers is extremely low.

The WHO has already said that the risk of Ebola transmission from air travel is low, but the level of fear is so high that several airlines have disregarded the UN agency’s advice and banned flights to the region.

“The risk of infection with the Ebola virus is extremely low, even for travellers visiting areas where cases of Ebola have been reported. This is because contraction of the virus occurs through direct contact with the blood, secretions, bodily fluids or organs of infected individuals or animals (living or dead), which is highly unlikely for the average traveller,” notes Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai Family Medical and Dental Centre.

According to the WHO’s latest update, the virus has killed 1145 people across West Africa this year, with a total of 2127 cases confirmed. While the risk may be low, ensuring that traveling employees are aware of the right precautions is critically important.

“There is no need for people travelling to or working in countries that have experienced Ebola outbreaks to be unnecessarily alarmed. Those working in and travelling to impacted areas should, however, take the necessary precautions to prevent contracting the disease,” Dr Vincent.

Precautions

The most effective precautions you can take to safeguard your health are also some of the simplest.

  • Practise careful hygiene.
  • Avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids of other persons.
  • Do not touch items that may have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids.
  • Avoid burial rituals, which involve handling the body.
  • Avoid contact with animals or raw meat.
  • Get medical care immediately if you develop fever, a sore throat, headache, a rash, diarrhoea, vomiting, aches, stomach pain or red eyes.
  • Monitor your health after you return from an area with an Ebola outbreak. If you do develop the above symptoms, be sure to inform your doctor about your recent trip and symptoms before you go to the doctor’s rooms or hospital. The doctor will need to take certain precautions to ensure the protection of others.
  • Do not panic if you present with any of these symptoms; remember that the likelihood of you contracting Ebola is very low. Also be aware that the symptoms of Ebola are the same as many other infections, including flu viruses, malaria, dengue fever, typhoid fever and Lassa fever.

Slow contagion

“It is also important to note that, after contracting Ebola, it can take up to 21 days to show symptoms of the disease, although 8 to 10 days is more common. Until a person exhibits symptoms, they are not contagious, so you don’t need to be concerned about getting the virus from apparently healthy individuals. There is also low risk of spreading the infection in the early stages of the illness,” adds Dr Vincent.

Symptoms show up two to 21 days after infection and usually include:

  • High fever.
  • Headache.
  • Joint and muscle aches.
  • Sore throat.
  • Weakness.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Lack of appetite.