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Ebola: is safari travel still safe?

Ebola is a scary illness. The very words 'haemorrhagic fever' sounds like something out of an apocalypse movie. Africa needed the world to know about the outbreak so that we could work together to stop it spreading. And, make no mistake, we are winning the war on this virus.

But with all the information out there, it's become harder to tell fact from fiction. Many videos, articles and blogs are helpful and accurate but some are simply not factual; they are designed to make us afraid by turning ebola into a Bogey Man for grown-ups.

As experts on Africa, we have taken up the challenge to answer the questions you asked us. We have done the research, consulted our partners across Southern and East Africa, and have make sense of it all in words and pictures. We trust you will find everything you need to know about ebola and its impact on your travel plans.

Ebola: is safari travel still safe?

Where is the outbreak?

The outbreak is confined to four countries in West Africa: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Liberia. Senegal and Nigeria have beaten the disease and were declared ebola-free by the World Health Organisation. The lessons from their success stories are being shared with the rest of the world. The WHO has announced that the outbreak in Liberia has been contained and that the rate of new infections has slowed dramatically.

Africa is so big – both the USA and China fit into it easily, with room to spare for India and much of Europe - that it is split into five zones: West, North, Central, East and Southern Africa. West Africa includes the countries mentioned above as well as others like Ghana and Ivory Coast. Nairobi and Arusha, both in East Africa, are further away from the outbreak than Rome, Madrid, Paris, London and Rio de Janeiro. 

Ebola map infographic updated

Safari destinations are in Southern and East Africa. Southern Africa consists of prime vacation spots like South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mauritius. To give you an idea of how far these destination are from the outbreak, South Africa’s holiday capital Cape Town is 3 478 miles (5 597km) from West Africa. Rome, on the other hand, is closer at 4 316km or 2 682 miles away.

Africa’s most famous wilderness destinations are in East Africa: Kenya and Tanzania are both more than 3 000 miles away from the centre of the ebola outbreak in West Africa – about the same as pleasure capitals like Rio de Janiero and Paris. 

Ebola: is safari travel still safe? Infographic

How is ebola spread?

Ebola relies on intimate contact with contaminated bodily fluids to spread because it a haemorrhagic disease – that means it ‘lives’ in the blood. To ‘catch’ ebola, you must come into close contact with the blood, vomit, urine, faeces or corpse of an infected person. This is why healthcare workers and the families of infected people are most at risk. In West Africa, the disease spread quickly because there are so few hospitals and even fewer doctors. Patients have had to rely on their relatives and friends to take care of them, which meant healthy people caring for very sick people without access to gloves, visors, Hazmat suits or disinfectants. 

Ebola: is safari travel still safe? Infographic

Is ebola airborne?

All current medical and scientific research shows that ebola is not airborne; that means you cannot contract it from breathing the same air as an infected person. It is a blood disease, and not a mucus or phlegm one.

If ebola were airborne, it would spread much faster than it has and outbreaks would last longer than they do. Quarantine measures, which are very successful in the fight against ebola, would not be nearly as effective as they are.

Is ebola always fatal?

No, not everyone who contracts ebola, dies. The fatality rate in West Africa is high because many people have compromised immune systems owing to extreme poverty and repeated bouts of tubercolosis (TB), malaria and yellow fever. Because their diets are poor and they do not have access to effective health care, tragically, these people there are most at risk of dying.

Many people have survived ebola thanks to early detection, strong immune systems and good care.

In the West, especially the US and Europe, infection rates are very, very low and survival rates are very, very high because of excellent medical care. 

What are the risks on a long-haul flight?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), patients are most contagious when their viral loads are highest, which is when they’re also closest to death and are already very ill.

Passengers at airports throughout the world are being routinely screened for raised temperatures and mild fevers, which are the first symptoms of ebola. Those showing these symptoms are either not allowed to fly or are assessed further. So good screening identifies patients in the early stages of ebola and keeps them off the plane.

Again, according to the CDC, even if an asymptomatic person became symptomatic during the flight, the risk of infecting other passengers is still incredibly low because ebola is a haemorrhagic disease. It would take at least another two days or 48 hours for them to being exhibiting sweats, vomiting and diarrhoea, which are the highly contagious bodily fluids that carry the disease. You would have to come into extremely close, direct physical contact with their bodily fluids (like kissing them or touching their blood and then your food without washing your hands) in those days in order to be at risk.

Ebola risks

The CDC states that long-haul flights fall into the low-risk category.

We suggest that all passengers - regardless of the risks - carry waterless hand sanitizer to use often but especially before eating, and have flu shots to improve their immune systems. We also encourage all travellers to get fully comprehensive travel insurance – here is a list of questions that you must ask your travel insurer to ensure adequate protection while travelling: 

Big 5 Travel Questions

Why has ebola suddenly become a problem?

There have always been periodic outbreaks of ebola. The current outbreak is considered bad for many reasons:

  • Better detection and diagnosis means more cases are certified as ebola (many of the early symptoms are the same as other diseases).
  • Better record keeping means the numbers can be confirmed.
  • Better global communications, including the spread of social media, means we are getting blow-by-blow accounts of it so it seems overwhelming .
  • Increased media interest in Africa has highlighted this particular outbreak over others, especially since Europeans and Americans have been infected.
  • Increased regional travel means it is spreading faster between towns.
  • Increased logging in West Africa means road are better and bush meat – ie the flesh of forest dwellers like chimps and other primates, which is considered a great delicacy and a primary source of protein – is far easier to come by. Bush meat could be a source of infection in West Africa.
  • In some parts of West Africa, there was panic buying of chlorine (a major disinfectant) and protective gear like disposable gloves. Hoarding meant that there were shortages of these items at a critical time in the lifespan of the epidemic, meaning it spread faster.
  • Some rural people do not believe ebola exists and were urging patients to leave hospital or preventing healthcare workers from reaching them. This had a negative impact on containing the disease.


Ebola: is safari travel still safe?

What emergency measures are in place?

The world is taking ebola seriously:

  • There are several drug trials under way and research into ebola treatments – Zmapp is the most well-known.
  • Screenings for the early symptoms, like fever, take place at international airports (once a patient has advanced symptoms and is most contagious, they are far too ill to travel).
  • The US government is urging its citizens to get flu shots, which is usual during the winter season. The better your immune system, the more protected you are from all diseases.
  • Patients with ebola are in quarantine, which is the best way of halting its spread.
  • In West Africa, widespread decontamination with chlorine is occurring.
  • West African governments are effectively disposing of bodies (in the past, cultural practices brought friends and families into close contact with the deceased).
  • Isolation measures are in place in parts of the United States.


We take the same care of our clients that we do of ourselves: we will not send clients anywhere that we would not go. Right now, in October 2014, two of our senior safari experts Ramona Rubach and Anza Snyman have travelled extensively East Africa and Uganda for almost a month because we do not believe they are at any risk of contracting ebola.

Ramona flew from South Africa to Uganda and was reassured to find a thorough health check at Entebbe International Airport. Passengers were required to complete forms detailing their recent travels as well as their health status. In addition, every passenger had their temperature taken and washed their hands with state-supplied sanitizer.

'I found it very reassuring that they were taking such strict measures - they were very jacked up,' says Ramona.

Anza and Ramona found the same measures in place at OR Tambo (Johannesburg), Jomo Kenyatta (Nairobi, Kenya), Arusha (Tanzania) and Abeid Amani Karume (Zanibar) international airports, as well as at vehicular border crossings. The economies of many East African countries rely on income from tourism, meaning that they are hyper-vigilant about keeping the region ebola-free. Kenya, especially, is looking forward welcoming visitors for the 2015 Great Migration season and is monitoring the ebola outbreak constantly.

Ebola: is safari travel still safe?
Anza & Ramona on safari in East Africa in October 2014.

What is Go2Africa’s policy on ebola?

Go2Africa has been bringing passengers to Africa since 1998. Since 2005, we have taken more than 30 000 clients – that’s around 250 a month – on safari. And most of our clients come back for more adventures.

We like to think that we’re a bit of an authority on safari and vacation travel to our beautiful continent. We’ve always provided 365/24/7 emergency support to all our travellers, from the minute you leave home and you return, safe, sound and brimming with memories. Because we book your entire journey – from flights all the way through to accommodation, excursions, transfers and activities – we know where you are and what you’re doing every step of your journey. That’s the only way we travel in East and Southern Africa: with back up all the way.

The risk to any Go2Africa client is very, very low. None of our destinations are in West Africa, we do not route flights through the outbreak region and we keep our clients informed and updated with the facts.

We know that ebola is scary and understand that many people are worried about the outbreak, which is why we are working round the clock with our partners in Southern and East Africa to find the best possible solutions around trips that are postponed or cancelled. We realise that any disruption of your dream journey is a tough decision to make, which is why we treat every one of our travellers’ unique situations with the utmost care and professionalism to find the best possible resolution under the circumstances. 

What happens if I get sick on safari?

We have dealt with major medical emergencies such as serious pregnancy complications and heart attacks all the way through to less serious ones such as travellers losing their spectacles in the middle of the bush.

Because we get to know our clients before we tailor-make their safaris, we encourage them to let us know about any medical conditions, right down to special dietary restrictions, so that we can support them effectively on vacation.

We maintain daily contact with suppliers to ensure that things are running smoothly, and our 24/7 hotline handled by senior staff. We also advise our clients to take out comprehensive insurance that includes medical evacuation.

We work exclusively with reputable partners who are as committed as we to your wellbeing. Since 1998, we have helped travellers from all over the world discover popular and remote parts of Africa. There have been medical emergencies – that is inevitable - but we’re proud to say that each has been handled with efficient and sincere care.

Ebola: is safari travel still safe? Infographic

Ebola is a scary disease and our hearts go out to those who have lost friends and family to it. But, with global screening efforts, effective quarantine measures, new vaccines and a better understanding of how it is spread, we are winning the war. Fewer people are being infected and more are surviving. To date, there have only been three confirmed cases in the US and one in Europe, and two of the five affected countries are in the clear.

We believe that Southern and East Africa remain prime holiday destinations for everyone from honeymooners to families with kids. It’s our job to manage the risk; it’s yours to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime.

Ebola: is safari travel still safe?

Written by Angela Aschmann. Connect with her on Google+.

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