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A guide for fliers worried about Ebola outbreak

In this photo taken on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, health workers speak to people on the streets to educate them about the deadly Ebola virus in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

NEW YORK: As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa grows, airlines around the globe are closely monitoring the situation but have yet to make any drastic changes. Below are some key questions about the disease, what airlines are doing and how safe it is to fly.

Q: Why are airlines concerned?

A: Airlines quickly take passengers from one part of the globe to another. One sick passenger on a plane could theoretically infect hundreds of people who are connecting to flights to dozens of other countries. Health and airline officials note, however, that Ebola only spreads through direct contact. Outbreaks of diseases that can spread through the air, such as the flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, are more problematic for airlines.

Q: Should people travel to West Africa?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday issued a warning for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Q: Is Ebola deadly?

A: Very much so. If contracted, there is no vaccine and no specific treatment. Ebola has a fatality rate of at least 60 percent. The World Health Organization estimated Monday that there have been 887 deaths from the current outbreak.

Q: How is Ebola transmitted?

A: The virus only spreads through direct contact with the blood or fluids of an infected person, according to the CDC. It can also be spread through objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected fluids. No airborne transmission has been documented.

Q: Which airlines fly to Africa?

A: Among U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines flies to Dakar, Senegal; Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria. The airline also flies to Monrovia, Liberia, but for unrelated business reasons previously announced it will cancel that service at the end of September. Delta is letting passengers with flights to the region in the next two weeks push back travel until the end of the month. United Airlines also flies to Lagos, but has not issued any travel waiver.

European carriers such as Air France-KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa all fly to Western Africa from their hubs in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt.

Lufthansa notes that “there is no risk of getting infected by the Ebola virus via air circulation during flight.” Crews on Brussels Airlines flights have access to special thermoscans to check passengers’ temperature, if they feel it’s necessary. And British Airways has briefed all crew members flying to the region about the “causes and symptoms of Ebola.” The only airline, so far, to cancel any flights is the Middle East airline Emirates. It has suspended its service to Conakry, Guinea, until further notice.

It is still flying to Dakar.

Q: Are passengers leaving Africa being screened?

A: Since the outbreak erupted, the CDC has sent about two dozen staffers in West Africa to help try to track cases, set up emergency response operations and provide other help to control the outbreak. Last week, CDC officials said the agency will send 50 more in the next month. CDC workers in Africa also are helping to screen passengers at airports, according to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 06, 2014, on page 11.

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