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Holiday Travel and Ebola Concerns: Is It Safe?

Holiday Travel and Ebola Concerns: Is It Safe?

Don’t let fear and misinformation about Ebola keep you from traveling this holiday season. We’re here to set the record straight on your real chances of catching Ebola on a plane (hint: they’re very low), and why you shouldn’t let the epidemic keep you from visiting loved ones and friends during the holidays.

Reason #1: Enhanced screening keeps people with Ebola off airplanes. As of October, U.S. airports have revamped their security measures for people coming from West African countries. Passengers are screened for the illness before they leave Africa, and then again when they arrive in the U.S. They’re asked about whether they’ve been exposed to the virus, and they’re checked for a fever, the hallmark sign that a person may be contagious. So you can quit eyeing all other passengers suspiciously.  Even if a fellow traveler has recently been to West Africa, if they pass the screenings, they’re just not going to be contagious. And since people exposed to the virus in the U.S. are put in quarantine or monitored for symptoms, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be sitting next to you on the plane.

Reason #2: Ebola can only be passed on if the person is symptomatic. The only way you can get Ebola from someone else is if they are carrying the disease and literally get sick on you. But what if an infected person sat in your seat on the previous flight? Consider this: Planes are cleaned lightly between flights and more thoroughly at the end of the day to prevent the spread of illnesses like the flu (which is spread much more easily than Ebola). To date, nobody who was on a plane with the U.S. Ebola cases has caught the virus.

Reason #3: Even if somebody symptomatic does get on a plane, you have to have contact with his or her bodily fluids to contract the virus. Ebola can be passed on only through direct contact with bodily fluids -- urine, vomit, blood, diarrhea. Even if you happen to be on a plane with someone who is infected (highly unlikely) the likelihood of catching Ebola is still extremely low. Additionally, the virus can’t be spread through the air like a cold, so don’t be traumatized if your row buddy keeps sneezing or coughing -- it’s not Ebola.

If you’re still feeling a little nervous about airport travel try these preventive measures:

  • Wash your hands regularly. No, you don’t need to wash your hands every ten minutes; before you get on the plane and after you get off will work just fine.  This sanitary precaution can decrease your chances of transmission of any diseases.
  • Get the flu shot before traveling. You’re more likely to contract the flu than you are to be exposed to Ebola. Lower your risk of getting sick at all by being vaccinated before you take your next trip.
  • Check for any Ebola outbreaks where you are staying. Domestic flights are safe travel destinations. But if you’re thinking about traveling to West Africa for the holidays, consider re-thinking that plan. The CDC warns that all nonessential travel should be avoided to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Extra precaution should be taken if going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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