As the global workforce continues to expand with travelers, expatriates and businesses pushing further into remote regions, so too does the risk of exposure to previously unheard of infectious diseases. It's against that backdrop that it's all the more important for organizations to have plans in place to deal with any medical and security risks.
Business travelers and expatriates (and their family members) need not only concern themselves with the risk of acquiring Malaria or Dengue Fever when entering endemic regions. They now need to be aware of Ebola, multi-drug resistant TB and MERS. Sadly there are no vaccines or treatments (beyond supportive care) for these diseases, which may be fatal.
The latest reminder is the Ebola outbreak that's taking place in Guinea and now Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ebola is fatal in about 80 percent of cases. This is the first time this disease has been confirmed in Guinea, with early cases suspected to have appeared in February.
Ebola is a rare, serious viral disease that is extremely contagious, and infects humans and other primates. It may be transmitted to humans when they have contact with infected animals. It's important to note that it does not spread through the air -- like the flu. But infected people can spread the disease to others, as the virus is present in body fluids like blood and urine. A single case can quickly turn into an epidemic, so it's important for the disease to be contained.
The disease incubates for two to 21 days before symptoms suddenly develop, including fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness. Other symptoms may involve a rash, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Internal/external bleeding occurs in some cases, which can lead to shock and massive hemorrhage.
So want does this mean to organizations sending travelers and expatriates into this part of the world? It means arming travelers with the latest information to keep them safe, as well as reviewing pandemic plans for dealing with the outbreak. Have a plan in place for what to do if an employee or traveler becomes sick. Better yet, have a plan to keep them away out of harm's way in the first place.
For travelers, it means staying away from affected areas, and avoiding contact with people who are sick as well as practicing strict attention to hygiene. Those considered to be high risk are healthcare workers, family or others caring for sick people or those managing the bodies of those who have died. Funerals in affected areas should also be avoided, as there is often a practice to wash the body, leading to exposure.
Travel should continue and be an exciting adventure. With the right precautions in place from both the traveler and the organization, it should also be a safe endeavor.