Following news that a Liberian man with Ebola had flown to Nigeria while symptomatic with the virus, international health officials have been forced to reckon with the possibility — however remote — that Ebola could travel outside of West Africa by flight and spread the outbreak to other regions of the world. This current outbreak, which began in March, has killed nearly 700 people.
As The Post explained earlier, there are some good reasons to be worried about this particular Ebola outbreak outside of the immediate region. In particular, the news that Ebola reached the densely-populated city of Lagos in Nigeria is of concern — outbreaks of the disease are usually seen in more remote areas, and this is the first time we've seen a confirmed instance of the virus traveling by air. Although there are no additional confirmed cases in Lagos beyond Liberian citizen Patrick Sawyer's death of Ebola in a now-quarantined Nigerian hospital, officials estimate that he came into contact with 59 people on his travels.
Ebola -- transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person -- is incurable, and it can kill up to 90 percent of those who contract it, according to the World Health Organization. Once symptoms appear, a patient is contagious. That state can last from days after infection up to three weeks.
WHO has said that "the risk of infection for travelers is very low," because transmission only happens with direct bodily fluid contact. In general, health-care workers treating patients with the disease, mourners of Ebola victims who come into direct contact with the body and family members of infected patients are at the greatest risk for infection themselves.
Here are some of the ways officials across the world are contending with the possibility of a more mobile Ebola outbreak:
West Africa: Suspended flights; Ebola checks
The Togo-based African airline ASKY has suspended all of its flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone as a "precautionary measure" after Patrick Sawyer's death of Ebola in Nigeria. As the Guardian explains, Sawyer flew ASKY from Liberia to Lagos, with a stop in Togo. In Guinea, the airline will screen passengers boarding departing flights.
Hong Kong: Ebola scare prompts quarantine
Although the patient eventually tested negative, Hong Kong went on high alert after the media there reported on a sick passenger with possible symptoms of the virus. According to the South China Morning Post, the passenger had recently traveled to Africa, although not in a region of the continent currently affected by the outbreak. The passenger was reportedly suffering from symptoms similar to those found in newly-symptomatic Ebola patients. Those symptoms, it should be noted, are also similar to those of the flu — dizziness, muscle pain, a sore throat and a fever, for instance.
Britain: Another scare as officials warn health-care workers to be on alert
A man in Birmingham, England, who showed Ebola-like symptoms after a recent trip to Nigeria was cleared of the disease. However, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss how to stop the outbreak from spreading. "At the moment we don't think any British nationals [abroad] are affected and we are fairly confident there are no cases in the U.K.," he said, adding that the virus "is a threat, it is something we need to respond to and we will be doing so," Hammond said to the BBC. The statement follows an earlier warning from Public Health England to all British doctors urging them to be aware of the symptoms of Ebola.
The U.S.: Preparations for "remote" outbreak possibility underway
Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters this week that "the likelihood of this outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is low,” but added that “the CDC has to be prepared for the remote possibility" of an outbreak in the United States. The agency issued a Level 2 health alert, asking health-care workers to watch for symptoms of the virus in their patients. Officials are concerned, in part, because two Americans working in Liberia have contracted Ebola. And as it turns out, Stewart (the Liberian man who succumbed to the virus in Nigeria) was planning a trip to the United States for later this month, where he has relatives.
Correction: This post initially referred to Lagos as the capital of Nigeria. It isn't -- Abuja is the capital. This post has been changed to reflect that.