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Why The Ebola Outbreak Shouldn't Keep You From Traveling in Africa

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Without a doubt, one of the biggest news stories of the year thus far has been the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The virus has spread across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, with a few cases being reported in Senegal and Nigeria too. To date, more than 7200 people have been diagnosed with the disease, and that number expected to climb dramatically in the days and weeks ahead. But the impact of the Ebola epidemic can be felt far beyond the countries that are currently combatting the outbreak, as fear and uncertainty over this health crisis have spread to other parts of the world as well. As a result, the tourism industry across Africa is facing a massive down turn, as travelers elect to visit other destinations instead. Despite all of the doom and gloom that is being reported on the news, Africa remains a safe place for travelers. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t let Ebola keep you away. 

Africa is Massive
The African continent is huge. It is so large in fact, that many of the popular tourist destinations are further away from the Ebola outbreak than some European countries. Take for example Kenya and Tanzania, which are two of the best safari destinations in all of Africa. Both countries are more than 3000 miles away from where the epidemic is occurring. South Africa and Botswana, two other amazing places to travel, are further still from the outbreak. If you plan to visit one of these places, the chances of contracting Ebola are almost nonexistent. To put things in perspective, the distance from Monrovia –the capital of Liberia – to Paris is 3071 miles. In contrast, Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is 3279 miles from the city.

Ebola is Not Everywhere
If you’ve simply been reading the headlines about the Ebola crisis, it would be easy to believe that the virus has spread everywhere across Africa. Read a bit deeper into the story, and you’ll find that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the outbreak has been contained to a relatively small region. In total, there are 54 individual countries on the African continent, and as of this writing, Ebola has only been found in six of them. If you avoid Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the chances of coming in contact with the virus drops significantly. Sengeal, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have also had a few cases reported, but the numbers in each of those countries have been so low as to be almost negligible. In the case of Senegal for instance, there has been only one person diagnosed with the disease, although caution is still advised for those visiting the West African country.

Photo Credit: Kraig Becker

Photo Credit: Kraig Becker

Contracting the Virus is Not Easy
Make no mistake, Ebola is a serious, life threatening disease that should be taken very seriously. But unlike a number of other infectious diseases, it is not airborne, meaning it can’t travel from one patient to another simply by being in close proximity with them. Instead, the virus spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected, usually through their sweat or blood. That means, that in order to contract the disease, one must actually have physical contact with someone who is already infected. While that is certainly possible, it is highly unlikely, unless you are traveling in one of the countries that is dealing with the outbreak. Those countries are also conducting screenings at their airports, and preventing those with Ebola symptoms from flying at all. Since the virus cannot be transmitted until those symptoms start to occur, if someone manages to pass the screening, they are safe to travel with as well.

Discounted Travel
As a result of the Ebola scare, a number of tour operators have started to see high cancellation rates from their clients, and a steep decline in future reservations too. One recent report indicated that bookings were off by as much as 70%, and are likely to get worse as the epidemic lingers on. Additionally, Major airlines that service the continent have indicated that they expect flights to sub-Saharan Africa to drop off by more than 50% throughout the rest of the year, with 2015 not looking much rosier. For opportunistic travelers, this could mean some incredibly good deals on travel to Africa. Even now, safari outfitters are offering steep discounts, and as more travelers shy away from an African holiday, the deals are likely to only get better. Continue to avoid West Africa of course, but don’t hesitate to visit the eastern or southern regions of the continent. Not only will you have the adventure of a lifetime, you just might get it at an unbeatable price.

If the World Health Organization is to be believed, the Ebola outbreak is likely to continue for another six to eight months, and could potentially spread to other countries in the process. But with a little knowledge and understanding, travelers can avoid the regions that present the highest risk, and still travel to Africa with little fear. As always, good judgement should dictate where you travel, not fear and confusion.

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