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How does the Ebola outbreak affect your travel plans to Africa?

I have no doubt that over the last few months you will have heard or read about the epidemic of Ebola virus disease that is on-going in a number of countries in West Africa. The outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013, but was not detected until March 2014, after which it spread to Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

What is Ebola Virus Disease?

NHS Choices advises; Ebola was first identified in Africa in the mid-1970s, it is a serious, usually fatal, disease. An infected person will typically develop a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat, and intense muscle weakness. These symptoms start suddenly, between 2 and 21 days after becoming infected, but usually after 5-7 days. Diarrhoea, vomiting, a rash, stomach pain and impaired kidney and liver function follow. The patient then bleeds internally and may also bleed from the ears, eyes, nose or mouth. Ebola virus disease is fatal in 50-90% of cases. The sooner a person is given care, the better the chances that they will survive.

How is Ebola spread?

Most infections result from direct infected human contact with bodily fluids or secretions. Ebola has also been reported following contact with the tissues of infected animals such as non-human primates and bats and it is not an airborne disease.

How can I keep safe?

Although the chances of being infected remain low there are measures you can take whilst travelling to prevent catching Ebola, recommended by The National Travel Health Network and Centre:

  • Avoid contact with symptomatic patients and their bodily fluids
  • Avoid contact with corpses and/or bodily fluids from deceased patients
  • Avoid close contact with live or dead wild animals
  • Avoid consumption of ‘bush meat’
  • Wash and peel fruits and vegetables before consumption
  • Practise safe sex
  • Follow strict hand washing routines
How serious is the outbreak?

It is the most severe outbreak of Ebola in terms of the number of human cases and deaths since the discovery of the virus in 1976, with the number of cases from the current outbreak now outnumbering the combined cases from all known previous outbreaks. As of 28 August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 3,069 suspected cases and 1,552 deaths. Many experts believe that the official numbers substantially understate the size of the outbreak because of families’ widespread reluctance to report cases.

How will this affect my travel plans to Africa?

With an increasing number of confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa there are bound to be concerns from travellers across the world. If you have previously travelled to Africa you will know how important it is to protect yourself against infectious diseases with the appropriate vaccinations but, in this case, there is no protection. There are no licensed vaccines or treatments available, patients need to be placed in isolation in intensive care while the body fights the disease.

Last month the World Health Organisation met with the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, declaring the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. However, they have recommended there should be no general ban on international travel. They have recommended in countries that are infected, that they should conduct exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings and there should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.

Am I still covered by my travel insurance?

It is only natural for you to question how this epidemic could affect your travel plans and more importantly, your travel insurance. As of the 2nd September 2014 The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has not restricted travel to any of the highly infected countries. However, if you do have confirmed travel plans for later in the year to West Africa, it is important to check the FCO website on a daily basis for their travel advice, just in case it does advise against travelling to the countries listed above as well as the World Health Organization (WHO)

Free Spirit takes their advices direct from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the World Health Organization or similar bodies and will only insure you for travel to places that these bodies considers ‘safe’. So check the position before making your booking and taking out your Free Spirit policy. If you decided to travel to a country or area against such advice, you will not be covered by your travel insurance policy. If you have made plans to travel to other parts of Africa and then decide you would prefer not to travel ‘just in case’, then you would not be insured for cancellation, as it would be considered to be ‘a disinclination’ to travel and this is not covered within the terms and conditions of the policy.

For details of the Free Spirit travel insurance benefits read our policy wording and keep up to date with world events on the FCO and WHO website.