Countries Affected by Ebola Urged to Screen All Travelers Seeking to Leave

As the number of people falling victim to the most recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus continues to rise past 1000, aid workers' focus has begun to shift to preventing the spread of Ebola beyond the African continent.

As the number of people falling victim to the most recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus continues to rise past 1000, aid workers’ focus has begun to shift to preventing the spread of Ebola beyond the African continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that it is encouraging extra steps be taken for travel in the most highly impacted areas. Working with the International Civil Air Organization, the World Tourism Organization, the Airports Council International, the International Air Transport Association, and the World Travel and Tourism Council, the WHO has mobilized aTravel and Transport Task Force.

While noting that the likelihood of the virus spreading while an infected patient is airborne is “low,” the WHO said some steps can be taken to keep all passengers as safe as possible. As transmission requires direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids, the WHO statement said the chances of that happening on a plane are “all unlikely exposures for the average traveler,” and advised travelers to “avoid all such contacts and routinely practice careful hygiene, like hand washing.”

The WHO also cautioned that just because a person travels to a place where the virus exists, it does not mean they will contract the virus.

“The risk of a traveler becoming infected with the Ebola virus during a visit to the affected countries and developing disease after returning is very low, even if the visit includes travel to areas in which cases have been reported,” the statement said.

Considering the volume of international travel, the WHO said it is important for countries to be on the lookout for people possibly carrying the virus. “Strengthened international cooperation is needed, and should support actions to contain the virus, stop transmission to other countries and mitigate the effects in those effected.”

One key action in that process is for the affected countries to conduct exit screenings at airports, seaports, and land based borders. “Any person with an illness consistent with EVD should not be allowed to travel unless travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation,” the statement said.

As for the “non-affected countries,” the WHO suggests the need to “strengthen the capacity to detect and immediately contain new cases, while avoiding measures that will create unnecessary interference with international travel or trade.”

The statement from the WHO does not go so far as to suggest a ban on travel or trade or travel restrictions for affected countries. “Worldwide, countries should provide their citizens traveling to Ebola-affected countries with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and measures to reduce the risk of exposure.”

Even before the WHO made its recommendations, the United States Department of State was already working to keep Americans overseas as safe as possible. On Friday, the US Embassy in Sierra Leone ordered all eligible family members to leave the Freetown facility and the country. “The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” a statement read.

While many Americans are being asked to leave, the State Department said those staying in country will be working to assist with the outbreak in a variety of ways.

“Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting the US citizens in country, the Government of Sierra Leone, international health organizations, local non-governmental Organizations, and the Sierra Leonean people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak,” the statement continued. “We remain deeply committed to supporting Sierra Leone and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the country’s health care infrastructure — specifically, the capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care.”