The final death toll for the West African Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016 was over 10,000 people. The outbreak left a lingering concern for a resurgence and the continued threat it may present to travelers.
It’s important to stay informed and up to date on all health and safety risks posed to visitors when traveling to a new country—especially Ebola in countries where it continues to pose a risk.
Discover the facts behind Ebola including what it is, how it can impact your travel plans, and what travelers can do to stay safe. Don’t forget to read the list of common misconceptions about Ebola too.
Where Did the Ebola Virus Come From?
Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), more commonly referred to as simply Ebola, was discovered in 1976. Scientists believe fruit bats or nonhuman primates are the natural Ebola virus hosts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The first outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a town near the Ebola River, which gave the disease its name. The disease has resurfaced periodically following this initial outbreak, but the largest outbreak to date started in 2014.
2014 – 2016 Ebola Outbreak
The 2014 – 2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the largest and most deadly outbreak of Ebola since its discovery. The outbreak began in Guinea and later spread to the bordering countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia in Western Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) due to the outbreak in Western Africa.
The outbreak later spread to seven other countries including Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The outbreak consisted of nearly 30,000 cases worldwide. Most of the cases were concentrated in Western Africa, with only 36 cases outside of this region.
2018 Democratic Republic of the Congo Outbreak
The most recent outbreak of Ebola continues to primarily affect the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Ministry of Health of the DRC reported the outbreak to the CDC in August of 2018. It is currently the second largest outbreak of Ebola since its discovery.
The WHO reports the latest updates regarding the current outbreak on its website as health workers continue to battle the health crisis in the DRC.
Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention
Stay informed with up-to-date information about Ebola. Know what the common symptoms are and how you can stay safe from the disease.
Symptoms of Ebola
Some symptoms of Ebola can be difficult to distinguish from other infectious diseases. Consult a healthcare professional and get tested if you experience symptoms in a country where Ebola is common.
According to the WHO, the first common symptoms to appear upon contracting Ebola are as follows:
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
More serious symptoms may arise including:
- Impaired kidney and liver function
- Internal / external bleeding (in rare cases)
Note that Ebola's incubation period is 2-21 days. This is “the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms.” A person cannot spread the disease until they have developed symptoms.
Treatments for Ebola
There is currently no proven treatment for Ebola. However, early interventions can significantly improve chances of survival. These may include rehydration with fluids and body salts and treatment for specific symptoms experienced due to the disease.
Prevention of Ebola
The CDC and the WHO cite frequent hand washing as the most effective way to prevent the spread of Ebola. A press release from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December of 2019 confirmed the approval of a vaccine for Ebola called Ervebo, though it is not yet widely available.
Preparing for Travel
Travelers should be aware of the potential risk of contracting Ebola virus when visiting some countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. Follow travel advisories for current information while practicing proper hygiene.
The U.S. Department of State provides travel advisories for countries around the world. These guidelines can help travelers decide whether they should visit a country or not. The advisory status is determined by the average risk of health and safety in a country. Let’s break down the four travel warnings posted by the U.S. Department of State.
- Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions
- Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution
- Level 3 – Reconsider Travel
- Level 4 – Do Not Travel
Though the U.S. Department of State has not issued a higher *Ebola-related travel advisory for Uganda, the CDC has expressed concerns about the potential spread to the country through the southern border with the DRC where people regularly cross.
Travelers wanting to visit high-risk areas should read the State Department’s tips and resources page for high-risk travel. A higher-level travel advisory may also affect your travel medical insurance coverage. Ensure you have read your coverage details thoroughly.
Use the travel advisory search engine to find out what travel advisories have been issued to the locations you plan to visit.
Learn more about what the different travel advisories mean and how they can affect your trip.
*At the time of publish.
Travel Health Notices
The CDC issues its own travel notices for locations around the world, separate from the U.S. Department of State-issued travel advisories. They measure health threats around the world and categorize countries based on severity.
There are three notice levels issued by the CDC:
- Watch Level 1 – Practice Usual Precautions
- Alert Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions
- Warning Level 3 – Avoid All Nonessential Travel
Use the search bar at the top of the CDC’s "Travel Health Notices" page to learn more about the current status of a location you plan to visit. Health notices can change quickly with the onset of a health crisis, so make sure you check the status regularly.
A higher-risk CDC Travel Health Notice may also affect your travel medical insurance coverage. Make sure you read your coverage details and check the status of your destination prior to travel.
Use caution when traveling to countries where Ebola is prevalent. Follow these tips from the CDC and WHO and consult your healthcare professional prior to your trip to help ensure your safety abroad.
- Practice careful hygiene and avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids. (Consult the CDC Hand Washing Guide for preventing the spread of Ebola.)
- Don’t handle objects that have been contaminated with infected fluid.
- Avoid funeral practices involving handling of the body of someone who died of Ebola.
- Seek immediate medical assistance if you develop possible symptoms.
- Limit contact with others if you become ill.
- Consider purchasing travel medical insurance before you leave. A plan like Atlas Travel can help mitigate the cost of unexpected illnesses and injuries abroad. Read your plan’s policy documents carefully, as there may be stipulations in relation to travel advisories and travel health notices.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT ATLAS TRAVEL INSURANCE: Atlas Travel does provide coverage for eligible expenses resulting from a disease outbreak like Ebola. However, this coverage does not apply if your travel destination was under a CDC-issued level 3 travel health notice at any point within the 6 months prior to your arrival, or if the CDC issued a global warning or alert level 3 in the prior 6 months.
If the CDC issues a level 3 travel health notice for your location after your arrival, eligible expenses resulting from a disease outbreak will be covered for up to 10 days following the date the notice was issued.
Common Misconceptions about Ebola
Make sure you have the correct facts about Ebola, especially if you plan to visit a country that might put you at a higher risk of contracting the disease. Here are several common misconceptions about Ebola, busted.
Misconception #1: Ebola is highly contagious to everyone in the area.
Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluid or contaminated objects. It’s not transmitted through air, water, or other means. Avoiding contact with Ebola patients can help keep you safe.
Misconception #2: The main symptom of Ebola is profuse bleeding.
This may happen in some cases, but other symptoms like fever, headache, and vomiting are much more common (and can be just as deadly).
Misconception #3: Anyone with Ebola serves as a danger to others.
Only people experiencing symptoms are a danger to those around them. Asymptomatic people cannot spread Ebola. In other words, it’s very difficult for someone to spread Ebola without knowing they’re doing it, or without knowing they’re infected.
Misconception #4: After recovering, Ebola patients can still transmit the disease.
Only those experiencing symptoms are contagious. Men who have recovered can transmit the disease sexually for up to seven weeks after symptoms fade, however.
Misconception #5: The best treatment for Ebola can be found in the home or in using natural remedies.
Seek immediate professional medical attention if you experience Ebola-like symptoms. Immediate professional treatment gives victims of Ebola the greatest chance of survival.
A Final Reminder Before You Leave
Any frequent traveler should know staying informed about potential health risks is key to staying safe while abroad. You could be at risk for contracting Ebola if you visit a location where it is prominent.
Consult a medical professional before any travel abroad to ensure you have all the information necessary to stay safe and enjoy your international exploration.