Should I Worry About Ebola if I’m Traveling to West Africa?

May 31, 2014
Outside Magazine

Be careful about eating bush meat like fruit bats—it can carry the Ebola virus.    Photo: allesok/Flickr


You should be vigilant about Ebola if you’re traveling to West Africa, just as you should take precautions with more common threats such as crime, malaria, and crazy drivers. It’s all part of safe and healthy traveling. But don’t worry excessively about it. Below are some tips for minimizing the threat from the virus, along with what’s known about the most recent deadly outbreak. 

What’s happening

There have been more than 170 documented deaths this year from the Ebola virus in West Africa. The outbreak began in Guinea and is suspected to have spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Mali. There’s no cure for the resulting hemorrhagic disease it causes, which has a mortality rate of close to 90 percent among those who catch it.

Ebola deaths are especially gruesome. The symptoms begin with fever and muscle pains, elevate to diarrhea and vomiting, and can end with hemorrhaging from the mucous membranes. In other words, it’s something you really don’t want to come down with.

This outbreak, the first one ever known to occur in West Africa, was also the first sizable one anywhere on the continent in the last seven years. This Washington Post article says researchers are attributing its spread in Guinea to a fruit bat handled by a human.

What to do

There are two pieces of good news. The first is that the outbreak is believed to be under control. The second is that Ebola is relatively hard to get. The only way to contract the virus is to come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone infected, or through the bushmeat of animals like bats, squirrels, monkeys, and antelope.

Follow these guidelines to dramatically reduce your chances of exposure to the Ebola virus:


  1. Be wary of the local delicacies. The main culprit for Ebola outbreaks has often been the meat of wild animals—especially bats—which is sold in many outdoor markets. In Guinea, avoid the spicy stew called kedjenou, unless you know for a fact that the meat in it is chicken and not wild game (including bats).
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  3. Avoid contact with infected people. This rule obviously applies mostly to medical volunteers visiting the region. If you find someone suffering from a form of hemorrhagic fever, wear gloves and protective clothing, and avoid touching them. 
  4. Don’t be an idiot when you’re there. Ebola can also be contracted through IV drug use. 


The Mayo Clinic provides some additional tips.

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