Ebola warning sign (Shutterstock: see credit below)
Article 08 September

Ebola: fact vs fiction

Sort the truth from the myths and rumours with this health advice from Nomad Travel's Medical Director Professor Larry Goodyer

It's so contagious that you will definitely catch Ebola just by sitting next to someone on a plane.

FALSE. People should not be worried about sitting next to someone in a plane with Ebola. The first thing to remember is that you cant catch it from someone who does not have any symptoms, even if they are carrying the virus. In the early stages it is not that contagious at all.

Ebola is contracted through bodily secretion from an Ebola victim, including those that may be on contaminated surfaces. Even if you were sitting next to someone very ill from Ebola it would have to enter your body via mucous membranes such as your mouth, or a cut/scratch. Most experts feel that the chances of catching Ebola by sitting next to someone are incredibly low.

This isn't the first outbreak of ebola in the world.

TRUE. The first reported outbreak was in 1976 in the Sudan and Congo with 603 cases and 432 deaths. Since then there have been around 15 outbreaks in West and central Africa, most were in the hundreds and in quite remote areas. The current outbreak is running at around 2,300 cases so it is the largest so far and also the first to be seen in major urban areas. The death rate in Ebola outbreaks varies between 50-90% but the current one seems to be at the lower end around 50%.

It's not recommended to travel to West Africa.

FALSE. There is currently (at time of writing this) no direction from WHO or FCO against travel to West Africa. Given that the chances of a traveller/tourist catching Ebola are low even if travelling to hot spots it should not put anyone off their plans in general. The risk is highest for those caring for Ebola victims, so unless you are a healthcare worker or perhaps visiting family and staying with them the risk is extremely low.

The only potential risky scenario for the traveller is if for any reason you should be admitted to a hospital in West Africa and they don’t have good quarantine arrangements in place. So it may be worth thinking about postponing a trip to somewhere like Sierra Leone especially if the chances of needing hospital treatment at some point are high. A shorter trip to somewhere like Nigeria would not carry the same kind of risk.

Every case is fatal.

FALSE. The current outbreak has a fatality rate of about 50%.

There is no vaccine.

TRUE. There is no current licensed vaccine, though an experimental treatment has been used on around 3 recent cases where healthcare workers have caught the disease. The problem is we don’t know yet how effective it really is. If the death rate is around 50% then those three may have survived even if the treatment had not been used.

I would advise people who are visiting West Africa to come to a Nomad Travel Clinic for a consultation with our specialist nurses who can not only give you advice for minimising any possible risks from Ebola, but also ensure that you have all the necessary vaccines and medicine for that part of the world. I believe that travellers will be better prepared if they do this than obtaining such a service from a general GP/pharmacy and in fact for most vaccines/medicines will not be paying any more.

Professor Larry Goodyer: BPharm, MPharm, PhD, MRPharmS, MFTM RCPS (Glasgow)
Larry Goodyer is Lead Pharmacist for the Nomad Pharmacy. His current position is Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Head of the Leicester School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University.

Main image: Ebola warning sign, Congo (Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock)