WHO, travel sector put together task force to monitor Ebola threat in transportation

The World Health Organization and groups from the travel and tourism sector recently assembled a task force to monitor efforts by transportation authorities to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.

The task force is a partnership between the WHO, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Airports Council International (ACI), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

In a statement issued on Monday, the WHO said the risk of transmission through air travel is low because the virus is spread by direct contact with blood, secretions or bodily fluids of infected or dead animals or people.

The death toll for the outbreak, which is concentrated in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, has surpassed 1,000. Earlier this month, the WHO declared the situation in West Africa a public health emergency of international concern.

Reports of the outbreak have caused public concern regarding the ability of the virus to spread through air travel among individuals returning from affected areas.

The WHO noted in its statement that an infected person can only spread the virus after an incubation period-the virus progresses in the body yet the person does not show symptoms-which lasts for two to 21 days. Symptoms include weakness, fever, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea and rash.

Better international cooperation is required, the WHO said, and countries affected by the outbreak are urged to conduct exit screenings at airports, seaports and border crossings for illness consistent with Ebola infection.

"Any person with an illness consistent with EVD should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation," the WHO said, adding that it does not recommend a ban on travel or trade. "There should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation."