Several students will be starting this academic year full of interesting tales from their Gap Year abroad. Whether that was backpacking across the Australian outback, or volunteering in a Gambian village; they will no doubt have exciting stories to share. Let us hope that is all they will be sharing.
West African countries are currently in the middle of an Ebola virus epidemic. The outbreak has infected more than 2600 people, and killed nearly 1500 people in countries including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
Ebola is a deadly virus, which has no current proven cure and a fatality rate of up to 55-60% in this outbreak. It is believed the Ebola virus lives harmlessly in fruit bats, which can then spread to other animals.
The virus is transmitted from an infected individual through physical contact with their blood and bodily fluids. The first transmission from animal to human is believed to be humans handling infected meat and coming into contact with the animal’s blood.
All schools in Nigeria have been ordered to remain shut until 13th October as part of measures to prevent the spread of the disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared this outbreak ‘an international health emergency.
“In many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be 2-4 fold higher than that currently reported… the aggregate case load of Ebola Virus Disease could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency,” the organisation said.
But how high is the risk of the Ebola virus in the UK? Well luckily for students and everyone else, Ebola is unlikely to spread in the UK. The virus requires close contact with an infected person, who should be in quarantine in hospital once they are known to have the disease.
The UK has good health systems and procedures in place to contain infectious diseases and there is better hygiene and health awareness throughout the population. An Ebola prevention centre in Liberia was mobbed and looted as some people were unhappy about the centre being close to their homes.
Influenzae, TB and the SARS virus epidemic of 2003 were a far more serious threat to the UK as these viruses can be spread through the air so are considered to have a higher risk of infection.
Professor Larry Goodyer, Head of the Leicester School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University and Deputy Chairman of the British Global and Travel Health Association, has made a video with advice for travellers. He said the risk is only high if there is direct contact, either through intimate contact or caring for someone with the condition.
He said “As a precaution, travellers should avoid eating ‘bush meats’ of any wild animals such as fruit bats or monkeys and, other than that, to follow the same advice we always give to reduce the risk of general illness and stomach upsets.”
The likelihood of those Freshers who travelled abroad on their Gap Year being infected with the Ebola virus is very small. The only time they will have an onset of fever, headache and sore throat will be when they are suffering with Freshers’ flu next week.