TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: Ebola Outbreak Countries Should Screen Departing Travelers

An MSF medical worker checks their protective clothing in a mirror at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone on August 15, 2014.
An MSF medical worker checks their protective clothing in a mirror at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone on August 15, 2014. Carl De Souza—AFP/Getty Images

Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone advised to conduct exit screenings to contain spread of virus

The World Health Organization (WHO) is asking countries affected by Ebola to conduct exit screenings of people leaving at international airports, seaports and major land crossings.

“Any person with an illness consistent with [the Ebola virus] should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation. There should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation,” the WHO said in a statement. The West Africa outbreak has spread to Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The announcement comes after a quarantine center was attacked in Liberia on Saturday. Reports suggest that around 17 Ebola-positive patients were taken from the center, which complicates efforts to track down and isolate people who may have come in contact with the disease. Blood-stained bedding was also stolen from the center, which officials warned may be able to spread the disease.

The WHO has created a Travel and Transport Task Force which will continuously monitor the outbreak in order to provide information and advice to the travel and tourism industry, but is currently not recommending any bans on international travel or trade. The WHO is also not recommending entrance screening for countries not affected by the disease and which do not share borders with affected countries.

The WHO also stressed that transmission of the virus on an airplane is a very low risk. People are contagious with Ebola once they start experiencing symptoms, and when that happens, people are usually too sick to attempt any travel. Ebola is also not an airborne disease, and can only be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids like blood and vomit. “Travelers are, in any event, advised to avoid all such contacts and routinely practice careful hygiene, like hand washing,” the WHO said.

People who are getting sick are usually family members and friends who are personally caring for a sick person or someone undergoing funeral preparations unprotected.

In a separate statement on Monday, the WHO addressed the threats experienced by health workers fighting Ebola. “Assaults on health workers and facilities seriously affect access to health care, depriving patients of treatment and interrupting measures to prevent and control contagious diseases. WHO has a specific mandate to protect the human right to health, especially for people affected by humanitarian emergencies,” Dr. Richard Brennan, director of WHO’s department of emergency risk management and humanitarian response said.

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