By Sarah Kohl, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers/McMurray Division



I’ve been asked a lot of questions recently about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa:


What do Travelers Need to Know About Ebola?

> The Ebola outbreak has been in the news with constant updates about infected people in the USA and abroad. The unfamiliarity and severe nature of this disease have many travelers worried. Fortunately the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been providing informative frequent updates based on the best medical information available.

> The Ebola virus is causing a deadly outbreak in 3 West African nations: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The epidemic is located in population centers and has completely overwhelmed the healthcare system there. The outbreak has not peaked and is expected to continue for at least 6-9 months more with many thousands more deaths expected.

> Ebola is unlikely to affect anyone living in or near Pittsburgh.

> It is safe to travel within the USA, Canada, Europe, India, Asia, Central & South America.


How is Ebola spread?

> Ebola is spread through contact with people who are symptomatic or have died from the infection. It cannot be spread by people without symptoms.

> The virus can be spread by:

  • Touching body fluids (blood, vomit, saliva, feces, urine, sweat, semen) from people ill with Ebola or who have died of Ebola.
  • Touching objects contaminated with infected body fluids (needles, medical equipment).
  • Touching animals who are ill or have died from Ebola (or contact with their body fluids or eating their meat).


> Ebola is NOT spread by air, water, casual contact, or food legally produced or purchased in the USA.

Read a helpful infographic from the CDC here.


What about air travel?

> The World Health Organization (WHO) has reassured us that air travel is safe since the virus is not spread by air or through casual contact. Additionally, due to the nature of airline travel, contact with body secretions is very unlikely for fellow passengers or crew.

> Enhanced screening is in place at many airports to prevent spread of the disease. Travelers ill with a fever are advised to stay home.

> At this point in time, travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea is not recommended. Extreme caution is advised for travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an unrelated outbreak of Ebola is active there.

> Travel throughout the African continent has rapidly evolving travel restrictions. Anyone planning to travel to Africa should check with the US State Department, the CDC and consult a healthcare provider skilled in travel medicine for specific advice.


What should a traveler do if they think may have been exposed to Ebola?

> If you think you have been exposed to Ebola, stay home and call your doctor; he or she can help you figure out the best care for you.

> Doctors and hospitals around the USA have been receiving regular updates from the CDC about how to help people who have been exposed to or are ill with Ebola.

> If you are too sick to stay home, call your local emergency room ahead of time to let them know you are on your way. Please do not take public transportation to the hospital.


Where did Ebola come from?

> The Ebola virus is harbored in fruit bats and is spread to humans by accidental contact with ill or dead animals. Human to human transmission occurs through contact with ill or deceased persons. This epidemic is different as it the first major outbreak in large population centers; smaller outbreaks have been occurring for decades in rural villages.


The CDC has excellent resources for people who want to learn more here.