August 1, 2014 1:50 pm

Health agency urges Canadians to stay away from Ebola-affected countries

Health workers teach people about the Ebola virus and how to prevent infection, in Conakry, Guinea, Monday, March 31, 2014. Health authorities in Guinea are facing an "unprecedented epidemic" of Ebola, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders warned Monday as the death toll from the disease that causes severe bleeding reached 78. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

OTTAWA – Health officials are telling Canadians to avoid travel to three African countries hit hard by an outbreak of Ebola virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the recommendation that Canadians avoid all non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is in line with an advisory issued by the United States.

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The agency had said Thursday there was no need for a travel warning, based on information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

But it has upgraded its travel health notice, saying Canadians can help health officials control the outbreak in the affected countries by staying away.

The health agency says while the risk of contracting the illness remains low, travellers could find it hard to access health care services if they get sick, and could also be exposed to the virus while seeking medical care.

READ MORE: Ebola outbreak prompts Canadian travel health notice but no ban

The World Health Organization says that, as of Thursday, 729 people have died as a result of the outbreak.

Just over 1,300 people are known to have been infected since February. In response, the WHO has launched a $100-million plan to combat the outbreak.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan was to meet today with the presidents of affected countries in Guinea. Nigeria has also reported one death due to Ebola, in a person who had travelled ill from Liberia.

Ebola virus is a rare and severe disease which can infect both humans and non-human primates. The virus is contagious and is spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from a sick person.

READ MORE: Doctor with Ebola gives experimental serum to infected colleague

Symptoms of the illness include fever, intense weakness, headache, sore throat and pains, and could involve bleeding from different parts of the body.

The current outbreak is the largest since the disease first emerged in Africa nearly 40 years ago.

The health conditions of two American aid workers who contracted Ebola while helping fight the outbreak have worsened, two relief organizations said on Thursday.

Missionary Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly are listed in “stable but grave condition” in Liberia, according to relief groups Samaritan’s Purse and Serving In Mission, both based in North Carolina.

READ MORE: Why health officials say the Ebola epidemic won’t spread into Canada

Writebol and Brantly were part of a team from the two agencies that was working in Monrovia, Liberia.

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