Why is it spreading? Where could it go next?

Aileen M. Marty, M.D.
Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program

Ebola VirusDirector, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program

It is already the worst Ebola outbreak in history and it is growing.  As of July 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 844 cases, including 518 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. We have not seen this many casualties since this deadly virus was first recognized in 1976.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is describing the outbreak as “out of control” and there are fears for much worse.  Doctors with the humanitarian organization say at least 1,500 people who have come in contact with those infected have yet to be traced, and it’s possible some of those people may be infected as well.
The incubation period for Ebola is between 2-21 days. That means someone could travel by plane from the infected region spreading the virus to other countries without knowing it.  Yesterday, a U.S. citizen was tested in Ghana when he fell ill after visiting West African states battling the disease.  He tested negative, but remains in quarantine at a clinic in Accra.
ebola in Uban Areas
Ebola has gotten out of hand because of the delayed response, the ease of travel bringing the virus to urban areas, and unusual cultural practices mixed with superstition. Some people believe the illness is the result of a curse and they don’t want outside help; in fact health workers have encountered hostility and violence in several locations.  Also in some areas of Africa it is still customary to wash the body of the dead, a dangerous practice, since the Ebola virus can live on the skin of a victim even after death.

Ebola is lethal. It kills 60%-90% of those infected. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. The good news is that it is not a highly transmissible disease; you have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected people or animals to get sick. Ebola is mostly found in bush animals especially monkeys, porcupines, antelopes, and fruit bats; so to be on the safe side, avoid eating bush meat.

Right now the WHO is not recommending travel or trade restrictions to West Africa, but you should always check with your travel medicine specialist for the most up-to-date information on this and other travel risks so you can protect yourself on your next trip.

FIU Health Travel Medicine Program and Vaccine Clinic appointments are available by calling 305-FIU-DOCS, 305-348-3627.