Ebola poses unique travel risks for business people
Despite the high level of attention paid to Ebola in the media, the disease itself isn't easily spread. There has to be very close contact between a visibly infected person and a potential new host. British newspaper The Guardian recently highlighted the relative danger of Ebola and influenza, noting that the common flu will infect hundreds of thousands of people this year and is much more easily transmitted - and can be fatal. Although the ease of transmission of Ebola pales in comparison to influenza, the severity of the disease's symptoms is causing governmental agencies to consider travel restrictions and bans for the growing area where Ebola is found.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already advised against any non-essential travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, areas that have been hit the hardest by the disease. The level-three warning is the strictest issued by the CDC and was previously used for serious events like the Haitian earthquake and the major outbreak of SARS in Asia. Along with the alerts for these three countries, a level-two warning calling for enhanced awareness was issued for The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Finally, a more basic level-one warning has been issued for Nigeria. The shifting nature of the Ebola outbreak means that more countries could easily be added to the CDC's lists as the disease spreads.
A limited but high risk
Bloomberg Businessweek highlighted the decision of President Obama to resist a complete ban on travel to and from West Africa, where Ebola is most prevalent. Because of the close contact needed to become infected, few travelers will encounter the disease, and the chance for infection is low. However, the spread of the disease to larger amounts of affected countries' populations, as well as to new areas of the world, could influence future decision making.
Business travelers need to understand the unique risk of Ebola. There's little chance that they can become infected if they use risk-adverse behaviors and limit travel inside an infected country. However, if an infection does occur, it carries very serious health concerns and a high risk of mortality. For companies that have to send employees to these areas, risk mitigation plans and safety management tools can allow business as usual to continue while limiting harm to employees. Using a monitoring system can help keep track of employees and changing conditions of the areas they travel to in real-time.
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