Now that the second American aid worker who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia has arrived back home on Tuesday for treatment at an Atlanta hospital, some global travelers may be wondering what they need to know about the deadly illness. British Airways on Tuesday temporarily suspended flights to West Africa, and other airlines say they are closely monitoring the situation. Here are some answers to questions about Ebola, what airlines are doing and whether it is safe to fly.
Q. Should I Worry about Ebola?
A. No, not if you live in a developed country, say health experts. However, in West Africa there have been at least 887 deaths in the current outbreak, out of a total of 1,603 reported cases, a fatality rate of about 60 percent. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two days to three weeks after exposure, and there is no vaccine and no specific treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded its travel advisory for West Africa on Thursday because of the Ebola outbreak, saying people should avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Q. Could Ebola Spread to the U.S. Through Air Travel?
A: Not likely, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Although the Ebola virus is just a short plane ride from anywhere, he reminds travelers that the virus is only spread through direct contact with an infected person. "The important thing to remember is that Ebola is only spread through contact with blood and body fluids," he said. "People with Ebola are only contagious when they are showing symptoms." Of more concern for airlines, he said, are infectious airborne viruses such as measles or influenza that sick people may spread before they even know they are ill. As for Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the two American aid workers infected with Ebola, they were transported back to the U.S. aboard a specially outfitted private jet.
Q: Which Airlines Fly to West Africa?
A: Delta Air Lines flies to Dakar, Senegal; Accra, Ghana; and Lagos, Nigeria. The airline also flies to Monrovia, Liberia, but for unrelated business reasons previously announced it will cancel that service at the end of September. Delta is letting passengers with flights to the region in the next two weeks push back travel until the end of the month. United Airlines also flies to Lagos, but has not issued any travel waiver. American Airlines does not fly to Africa. European carriers such as Air France-KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa all fly to Western Africa from their hubs in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt. British Airways said Tuesday that it has temporarily suspended flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone "due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries." Emirates is the only other airline, so far, to cancel any flights to the region.
Q. Are Travelers Being Screened for Signs of Illness?
A: Federal agents at U.S. airports are watching travelers from Africa for flu-like symptoms. Border patrol agents at Washington's Dulles International Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, in particular, are watching for signs of fever, achiness, sore throat, stomach pain, rash or red eyes. The CDC also has staff at 20 U.S. airports and border crossings. Any passenger suspected of carrying the deadly virus would be quarantined immediately and evaluated by medical personnel, CDC said. Passengers boarding planes at airports in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are being screened for Ebola symptoms, including fever, and given health questionnaires, CDC said on its website.
Q. How Has the Airline Industry Dealt With Outbreaks in the Past?
A. During previous outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 and the H1N1 virus, nicknamed swine flu, in 2009, some airports around the globe used thermal imaging cameras to screen passengers for fever. Adalja, however, called such measures "not very effective" as travelers can take medicines such as Tylenol to reduce fever. The CDC has issued Ebola guidance for airlines, with information on managing ill passengers, reporting sick travelers and cleaning planes.
Information from NBC News' Maggie Fox, Patrick Rizzo and The Associated Press was included in this report.
First published August 5 2014, 2:25 PM