The CDC has issued a warning for people traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Share on Pinterest
The CDC issued a level two warning for people traveling to areas where the Ebola outbreak is ongoing. Getty Images

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Ebola a global health emergency.

The disease, which is rare but extremely deadly, has been on the rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the past year or so, Ebola has infected about 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700, according to Congo’s health ministry.

And just last month the virus spread across Congo’s border into Uganda.

Now, more neighboring regions — including South Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda — are on guard over concerns the deadly virus may also spread into their territories.

By declaring the virus an emergency, the WHO hopes to drive funding, resources, and more healthcare workers to the area to put an end to the devastating outbreak.

“The outbreak has been smoldering for over a year because it has been hard to perform routine public health activities necessary to control disease spread due to political instability in the affected region in Eastern DRC,” Dr. Chris Woods, a professor of medicine and global health at Duke University, told Healthline.

“The recent cases identified in Uganda and in the large city of Goma on the DRC/Rwandan border highlight the potential for regional spread if the local outbreak is not controlled,” he said.

An Ebola epidemic usually starts when someone comes into contact with an infected animal, like a primate or bat, typically through butchering, cooking, or eating it, according to Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care.

From there, it can spread from human to human via contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids (such as vomit, urine, blood, feces, semen, or breast milk).

Symptoms typically begin with a fever, headache, or body aches before progressing to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Eventually, the patient’s body may go into shock. The organ systems — such as the liver and kidneys — may begin to shut down, Kappagoda notes.

Ebola is extremely lethal. On average, it has a 50 percent fatality rate. In past outbreaks, the average fatality rate has ranged from 25 to 90 percent.

“It can be devastating because of the high death rate, and because it occurs in areas where healthcare systems may already be under strain,” Kappagoda explained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a level two travel notice for people going to Congo.

In short, a level two notice suggests that travelers take special safety measures while visiting at-risk areas.

So, while travelers don’t need to avoid Congo or nearby countries like Uganda or Rwanda, altogether, health officials recommend steering clear of affected areas, such as North Kivu and Ituri.

If you’re traveling to Congo, it’s crucial to be extra alert and careful.

“It is essential that all travelers to the region remain aware of public health updates as they are made available. One should have heightened situational awareness of the health of others when traveling and should seek care if they think they have been exposed or develop a persistent fever,” Woods said.

Overall, Ebola is extremely rare in travelers, health experts say.

“It is not an easy virus to get. It does not get transmitted through the air like the influenza virus does,” Dr. Joseph Vinetz, an infectious disease expert with Yale Medicine, told Healthline.

For example, if someone were to cough on or near you, you wouldn’t get Ebola, he says.

To contract the virus, you’d need to come in contact with an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids. The best thing you can do is to avoid contact with other people’s fluids.

Steer clear of any items that may have come into contact with a sick person, like clothes, needles, medical equipment, or bedding.

Don’t participate in any burial activities that would require you to touch human remains, as you can still contract the disease from the deceased.

It’s also a good idea to consider getting travel health or medical evacuation insurance coverage, according to the CDC.

After your trip, pay attention to your health for about 21 days. If you notice any symptoms, immediately make an appointment with your doctor.

Be sure to call ahead and tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel before visiting the hospital or clinic so they can protect themselves as well.

Healthcare workers are most at risk for contracting the virus, as they’re the ones working alongside people who have Ebola.

If you’re going on a mission trip or traveling specifically to help or treat people who have Ebola, you may qualify for an experimental, compassionate-use vaccine, according to Vinetz.

“The vaccine is available for people who basically have been in contact or expected to be in contact with Ebola patients,” Vinetz said.

The hope is to create a “ring” of immunized people around the infected patients to stop the virus from spreading.

It’s thought to be extremely effective, but because it’s an experimental vaccine and isn’t being given in a clinical setting, it’s hard to evaluate just how well it works, Vinetz notes.

Still, in addition to the emergency declaration, the new vaccine is a promising step toward putting an end to the devastating outbreak in Congo.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Ebola a global health emergency due to the growing and deadly outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the past year, the disease has infected about 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700. Travelers should steer clear of affected areas, like North Kivu and Ituri, and practice special precautionary measures if they’re visiting the region.