Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Latest update

This Bulletin was last issued on Wednesday, 20 August 2014.  

On 8 August 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The announcement is intended to bolster efforts in West Africa and garner the international community’s cooperation in containing and reducing this outbreak.

The announcement does not change the risk to Australia, which remains very low. To provide further reassurance, the Australian Government will be putting in place banners and electronic messaging at our international airports to raise awareness of the symptoms of Ebola. All passengers whose travel originated in affected countries in Africa will have their health checked. Our border protection procedures are robust and sufficient to deal with any threat. Our infection control mechanisms in hospitals are first rate. As part of routine procedures, incoming flights to Australia have on-board announcements, asking passengers who are feeling unwell with fever, chills or sweats to alert a crew member. Crew members will alert border protection and biosecurity staff for follow-up health procedures.

This is the most serious outbreak of EVD in recorded history. It began in Guinea and has since travelled to Sierra Leone, Liberia and most recently Nigeria claiming over 1200 lives.

The Ebola virus causes EVD in humans, with a fatality rate of up to 90%. The symptoms of EVD are severe and can include high fever, muscle pain and weakness, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding. There is no known vaccine or cure for Ebola. The virus can be transmitted to humans from wild animals or between humans through bodily fluids, including blood, faeces and sweat. Transmission can also occur through direct contact with the body of a deceased Ebola patient.

International Travel Implications

We advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This reflects the seriousness of the outbreak, the challenges in containing it, the limited emergency care options, and the increasing travel restrictions which have significantly reduced freedom of movement in the region. Given these restrictions we strongly advise you to consider leaving these three countries while commercial flights continue to operate.

Australian embassy personnel have deferred travel plans to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as a result of the Ebola outbreak. We recommend Australian travellers do the same. Areas in these three countries that are affected by the Ebola virus are mentioned in relevant country travel advisories. See also this map to easily identify affected areas.

Travel movements and services will continue to be significantly affected. Liberia has announced a state of public emergency and has closed the majority of its borders in a bid to combat the spread of the disease. Those entry points that remain open, such as Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, are being used as Ebola prevention and screening centres. Similarly, Sierra Leone has imposed a 60-90 day state of emergency, which enables the military to enforce quarantine zones, restrict public movements and limit public gatherings. Guinea has implemented a State of Emergency and closed its borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria is also taking a range of precautionary measures, including declaring a state of emergency.

The 8 August WHO announcement marking the Ebola outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern will also lead to travel restrictions in neighbouring countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

The authorities in several countries have implemented flight bans due to the spread of Ebola. An increasing number of carriers, including British Airways, Emirates, Arik Air, ASKY Airlines and Kenya Airways, have indefinitely suspended flights into affected countries. More disruptions and cancellations should be expected. Many land borders have been closed. It is likely that more land borders, ports and river crossings will close, with little or no notice.

Health screening is being undertaken at many international airports that have direct flights into the region or that are major air travel hubs. Travellers with fever or Ebola-like symptoms may be subject to quarantine or denied approval to enter or exit the country.

Should you decide to travel to these countries despite our recommendations, closely monitor the advice provided by local health authorities and the WHO. In addition, we advise you to maintain strict standards of hygiene and avoid direct contact with patients with Ebola or unknown illnesses. Avoid contact with any objects that could have been contaminated with bodily fluids. Travellers should also avoid contact with wild animals and should not eat or handle raw or undercooked animal products, such as blood and meat. Know the symptoms of EVD (see the link to the WHO Ebola factsheet below) and see a healthcare provider immediately if they develop before or after travel. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider and Australian border officials that you have travelled to a region where Ebola was present.

Before travelling you should confirm that borders remain open and/or check with your carrier for the most up to date information on flight schedules and possible cancellations.

You should be aware that medical evacuations for any potential Ebola patient will be extremely difficult to conduct. The standards of local emergency health care in affected countries are well below Australian standards. The current outbreak of Ebola has overwhelmed many local health facilities and options for obtaining routine or emergency medical care may be severely limited.

The Australian Government does not have diplomatic missions in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Australian High Commission in Accra has consular responsibility for these countries. Given the increasingly severe restrictions on travel, the Australian Government will have limited options in providing consular assistance in affected countries. If you are in or considering travelling to affected countries, please contact your travel insurance provider to check the details of your cover, particularly with regard to emergency health care and evacuations

For more information about the Ebola virus, see the WHO Ebola factsheet and the Department of Health website. For information about the current outbreak in West Africa, see the WHO disease outbreak news page.

While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.