Via CIDRAP, a good post by Lisa Schnirring: WHO pushes back against Ebola-related flight bans. Excerpt:
With some airlines suspending flights to West Africa's Ebola outbreak region, the World Health Organization (WHO) today restated its position that the risk of disease transmission during air travel remains low, as a few doses of an investigational drug reached Africa.
Korean Air Lines (KAL) announced today that it would suspend flights to Nairobi, Kenya, starting Aug 20 to prevent the spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD), according to a report today from Reuters. KAL operates three return flights from Nairobi each week. Kenya has not reported any Ebola cases and does not border the affected area, though the WHO has urged it to take extra precautions, given the volume of travel between it and the outbreak countries.
Earlier this month, British Airways said it was suspending service to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the EVD outbreak. Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, has also suspended flights to Guinea.
So far, only one travel-related illness has been detected, in an airline passenger from Liberia who was sick upon his arrival in Nigeria, an event that sparked a transmission chain in the capital, Lagos. However, some airlines are concerned about the safety of passengers and staff who might need to seek care in a medical facility in outbreak countries.
WHO repeats advice against flight suspensions
Isabelle Nuttall, MD, director of the WHO Global Capacity Alert and Response, said in a WHO statement today that unlike flu and tuberculosis, Ebola doesn't spread through the air. "It can only be transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids of a person who is sick with the disease."
The WHO added that on the small chance that someone on a plane is sick with Ebola, the likelihood of other passengers and crew having contact with their body fluids is even smaller. Typically, when a person is sick with Ebola, they are so unwell that they can't travel. Health experts also say people who are infected with Ebola can't shed the virus until they have symptoms.
Last week the WHO's emergency committee on Ebola said the outbreak developments in West Africa qualify as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), and it recommended a set of measures to curb the spread of the disease. The panel urged no bans on international travel or trade and that countries make sure they have the capacity to identify and care for travelers from Ebola-affected areas who arrive at travel hubs or destinations with unexplained fevers or other symptoms.
On its Twitter account today, the WHO said international airlines in affected countries are putting systems in place to screen passengers for possible infections. Global health officials have said exit screening in outbreak countries is likely to be more effective for flagging illnesses than entry screening in destination countries, because nonstop flights from African countries aren't the most common route, and it's more difficult to track passengers when they take multi-leg flights.
The WHO also tweeted that it is disappointed when airlines stop flying to West Africa: "Hard to save lives if we and other health workers cannot get in." (??)