With nearly a thousand dead and 1,200 confirmed cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, the current Ebola crisis has crossed more borders and killed more people than any other outbreak in history. Although CDC recommends that U.S residents avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, the effect on travel plans appears to be minimal outside of those traveling to affected countries.
At least three Americans have been infected; two are health care workers in an Ebola clinic. While there have been suspected Ebola cases in Europe, Asia, and North America, none have been confirmed as of this writing. Concern that Ebola will become a problem of the developed world is low as Public health officials point out that it is historically a problem for those countries with generally poor sanitation and a shortage of resources to contain them, unlike the U.S.
While further spread within the continent of Africa by travelers is the greatest fear of public health officials, this outbreak of Ebola is different than any other due to its size and means of spread throughout countries on the continent. The death of naturalized American citizen Patrick Sawyer following the 1,000-mile flight to Nigeria is the first incident where an Ebola patient has traveled by air. The case has led to across-the-board flight suspensions into and out of Liberia and Guinea as well as Sierra Leone by the airliner on which he traveled. Sawyer’s American home was in Minnesota.
Minnesota is home to more than 30,000 people of Liberian descent, which is the largest community of Liberians in the U.S. Many have been scrambling for plane tickets and visas to get relatives out of the stricken zone as several area churches have canceled mission trips intended to deliver medical and other aid to Liberia. Most of those hoping to get relatives out of Liberia have met with little success as flights are booked up and fares are skyrocketing.
AFK Travel, an acknowledged authoritative web portal that deals with all things related to travel into and throughout Africa recently ran an article regarding the outbreak’s effect on travel and tourism to the continent. Many major U.S. travel bookers that specialize in travel to the continent have reported preparation questions but little change in bookings or travel plans outside of those to affected countries.
The CDC and World Health Organization say that the spread of the outbreak to the U.S. by air travel or any other means is highly unlikely. As a precautionary measure, over 20 U.S. airports, including JFK & Newark, have been staffed with health officials trained to look for the symptoms of Ebola. Those with symptoms will be isolated.
The CDC says there will be no border closings in the States, and last report showed that the two Americans ill with the virus that were evacuated back to the Emery University Hospital in Atlanta, near CDC headquarters are showing some signs of stabilization after taking an experimental vaccine.
Health officials predict that it will take as long as three months to stop the outbreak in all three of the affected countries. Barring any unforeseen developments during that time, no official bans on travel are likely (barring the potential for bans to those affected countries), and travel plans for Americans are likely to be unchanged beyond additional precautions.