By now, most travelers are aware of the Ebola virus. Some airports have started taking the temperatures of passengers arriving from affected countries, some people are avoiding travel to certain areas, and some are confused as to what is safe and what is not. Should you be concerned about your hotel room?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Ebola virus is spread between people by way of contact with blood or the bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (bedding and clothing) contaminated with the fluids.
In a hotel the chance is very low that you would come into contact with someone actively showing signs of the virus. If someone does show symptoms, they would be isolated until taken to a medical facility, and care would be taken to clean the areas thoroughly where the guest had been. As The Guardian reported with the Super 8 in Skopje, the hotel was sealed off and the guests quarantined until it was determined that the patient in question did not have Ebola. It must have been scary for the guests in the hotel, since they were not allowed to leave the hotel until they got the all-clear. Because the virus is not airborne though, as long as they stayed in their rooms where the patient had not been the chance they would have contracted the virus would have been very small. (photo from The Guardian)
Information is constantly being updated, but here is some basic travel advice given by the World Health Organization (WHO). Click here for their full Q&A.
“Is it safe to travel during an outbreak?
While travellers should always be vigilant with regard to their health and those around them, the risk of infection for travellers is very low since person-to-person transmission results from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of an infected patient. The incubation period of Ebola virus disease (EVD) (the interval from infection to the onset of symptoms) ranges from 2 to 21 days. People are not infective during the incubation period, but become infective with the onset of symptoms.
Is it safe to travel to West Africa on business or to visit family and friends?
The risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported. Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animal, all of which are unlikely exposures for the average traveller. In any event, tourists are advised to avoid all such contacts.
How about food served in hotels?
If food products are properly prepared and cooked, humans cannot become infected by consuming them: the Ebola virus is inactivated through cooking.
When should someone seek medical care?
The most common symptoms experienced by persons infected with the virus are the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and, at an advanced stage, may include both internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cells and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes. If a person has been in an area known to have Ebola virus disease or in contact with a person known or suspected to have Ebola and they begin to have symptoms, they should seek medical care immediately. Any cases of persons who are suspected to have the disease should be reported to the nearest health unit without delay. Prompt medical care is essential to improving the rate of survival from the disease. It is also important to control spread of the disease and infection control procedures need to be started immediately.
What is the treatment?
Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. They are frequently dehydrated and need intravenous fluids or oral rehydration with solutions that contain electrolytes. There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease. Some patients will recover with the appropriate medical care. To help control further spread of the virus, people that are suspected or confirmed to have the disease should be isolated from other patients and treated by health workers using strict infection control precautions.
What can I do? Can it be prevented? Is there a vaccine?
Currently, there is no licensed medicine or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, but several products are under development.”
For those who are germaphobes and curious what the cleaning process is for bedding, the Institute of Hospitality, UK, Nigeria Branch has published a document with room cleaning guidance for hotel staff. Keep in mind that these instructions are for hotels in Nigeria where there have been 19 confirmed cases of Ebola as of October 10, 2014 and 7 deaths.
-Wear impermeable disposable gloves while cleaning the guest rooms and lavatories.
-Wipe down lavatory surfaces and frequently touched surfaces in the guest room, such as armrests, seat backs, tray tables, light and air controls, and adjacent walls and windows with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered cleaner/disinfectant that has been tested and approved for use.
-Special cleaning of upholstery, carpets, or storage compartments is not indicated unless they are obviously soiled with blood or body fluids.
-Special vacuuming equipment or procedures are not necessary. Do not use compressed air, which might spread infectious material through the air.
-If a seat cover or carpet is obviously soiled with blood or body fluids, it should be removed and discarded by the methods used for biohazardous material.
-Throw used gloves away according to the company’s recommended infection control precautions when cleaning is
done or if they become soiled or damaged during cleaning.
-Clean hands with soap and water (or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap is not available) immediately after gloves are removed.
Here is a link to the full document.
Marriott International has also issued an official response to the Ebola virus outbreak –
“In response to the Ebola outbreak, Marriott International is reinforcing its existing global protocols for addressing infectious diseases. Our business continuity plans encompass preparedness for public health emergencies, and our operational protocols include raising awareness and responsibly responding to threats of Ebola. These protocols have been shared with our hotels globally. We are encouraging all employees working at Marriott International managed hotels, our franchisees, and our guests to get more information on the disease by going to the World Health Organization Ebola information page (Click here) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ebola information page (Click here). Marriott is being vigilant and monitoring new information as it becomes available. As always, the safety and security of guests and associates is a top priority at Marriott International.”
Bottom Line –
Hotels everywhere are being extra stringent in their cleaning protocols, and the dirtiest part of the room is still most likely to be the remote control and drinking glasses. If you are the extremely cautious sort or traveling through affected areas, a mixture of chlorine bleach and water on hard surfaces or via spray bottle on linens ought to be more than sufficient to rid the area of the virus. Clorox wipes and Purell are also good.
My thoughts on Ebola are that it will not be possible to stop the spread by simple quarantine. Fear isn’t helpful, but preparation and science are. There was a high level of fear during SARS and also H1N1, and the smartest thing to do is just practice common sense. Extending help to west Africa and those who are directly affected will assist us in turn to find a cure or vaccine. Unicef and Americares are two organizations that would be grateful for donations. For those readers located in west Africa, I hope that the situation is quickly brought under control.
I don’t have plans to travel to west Africa in the near future, but I will be extra diligent about washing my hands frequently with warm water and soap, using hand sanitizer, and basically taking the same steps I would at this time of year to avoid getting the flu or a cold. The risk of contracting Ebola is low, and hotels are taking careful steps to protect their guests.
Will you change your travel plans because of the Ebola outbreak?