Should Tourists Worry about Ebola?

We have all heard the news. There have been documented cases of Ebola in the US and Africa. The surrounding controversy is natural. Due to the fear that Ebola generates, some people are afraid to travel. Should you worry about Ebola? And should Ebola stop you for seeking medical or dental care in another country? Following are four points about the “Ebola Panic” that you should consider:

1. When dealing with a serious issue like Ebola, the best thing to do is to ask professionals in the appropriate field. What do doctors say about this problem?

Most doctors are very clear. They believe it is safe to travel, and encourage routine precautions, such as being cautious about what you eat and following basic sanitation rules. These are good tips to follow whenever and wherever you travel.

Dr. Alla Kyrsch, Pesident of Travel Clinics of America, a network of more than 70 offices in the United States advises:

“I’m telling my patients to use common sense and continue to travel.” Her definition of common sense includes things as simple as washing your hands and wiping surfaces on airplanes and bathrooms. Also, you should pay attention to risk factors that might affect your specific condition, but Ebola isn’t a risk factor unless you are traveling to western Africa.

2. How bad is Ebola for Americans and Canadians?

Again, experts in the field think that Americans in the US (and Canadians in Canada) and traveling abroad have little to no chance of catching Ebola.

Dr. Keith Armitage, Professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, is a specialist in infectious disease in three travel clinics operated by University Hospitals. In his opinion, the fear over Ebola is overblown.

“From a rational standpoint, the vast majority of Americans do not need to be concerned.” He states that the disease is transmitted via bodily fluids and is not spread through casual contact and can’t live outside a body. He understands that people worry, but he attributes the worry mostly to the dramatic effects of the disease rather than the rate of infection. In fact, he compares the level of anxiety of patients to the level they suffered during the Anthrax scare in 2007. “Then, like now, the actual threat to Americans was extremely small.”

3. There are diseases far more likely to kill you than Ebola, and most people don’t even think about them.

Dr. Armitage states that if Americans are going to be afraid about a travel-related disease, then Malaria should be a bigger concern, since it kills many more people than Ebola. However, nobody stops traveling because of Malaria. In fact, if people just did the proper research and took anti-malaria drugs, this number would be much smaller.

The flu is another disease to take precautions against. Not because it’s deadly, but because its symptoms can resemble those of Ebola (fever, nausea, and chills), potentially prompting an Ebola scare. Dr. Armitage says that this is just one more reason to get your flu shots.

4. Where Are You Going?

Finally, consider your destination country. It is probably as Ebola free as your own city. Ebola is limited to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, all of them in Western Africa. Doctors obviously discourage non-essential travel to those countries. However, if you’re considering medical or dental travel, you’re probably going to a destination that is thousands of miles away from those countries. Popular medical tourism destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas are free of Ebola. We are advised that there is no need to worry about contracting Ebola in Central America or South America.

So, the conclusion to the question of whether medical tourists should be concerned about Ebola is: No. Unless you are going to western Africa, Ebola is not currently a risk factor for travel. Get a flu shot and enjoy your trip.