Ebola: What is the risk of it coming to France?

What are the chances of the Ebola virus coming to France? And if it did make it to these shores how bad would it be? The Local takes a closer look at the possibility and also how the French government plans to deal with an outbreak.

Ebola: What is the risk of it coming to France?
What are the chances of Ebola coming to France and would happen if it did? Photo: Zoom Dosso/AFP

On two occasions last week it appeared the deadly Ebola virus had come to France, however both incidents proved to be false alerts. After the two scares The Local takes a closer look at how real the risks are of a French outbreak. 

How worried should we be about an Ebola outbreak in France?

Thankfully, at the moment anyway, we needn't be too concerned. The main reason for this is the sheer distance separating France and the Ebola-hit regions in West Africa, which currently are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Since the disease evolves relatively quickly, most people carrying the virus would be detected before they are even allowed on a plane. If a person flies from a high-risk zone, they are asked to keep a close eye on their condition when they arrive in France and to report any symptoms to authorities. The risk of transmission during the incubation period is considered to be low.

But does this mean Ebola is only a plane-ride away?

Yes and no. Although a case of Ebola could travel undetected on a flight, the main international airlines have already prepared for such a scenario. Not to mention France’s flagship-carrier Air France which screens passengers for the virus before they board a flight leaving from high-risk Ebola areas, like Conakry and Freetown in Sierra Leone. The screening includes taking passengers’ temperature and getting them to fill out questionnaires. “They are only given their boarding card if no medical symptoms are present,” the airline has said in a statement.

Should someone carrying the Ebola virus still get on board, there are precautions for that too. Air France crew have received instructions on how to isolate a person who is suspected of being infected, for example reserving a toilet for that person, among other measures. The airline has also ensured its flights are equipped with face masks, rubber gloves and alcohol-gel. Air France also keeps a record of anyone on the flight who might have been in contact with an infected person.

Since Ebola is not an airborne virus, but requires the direct contact of body fluids, such as sweat, blood, saliva and vomit, the chances of a transmission of Ebola between passengers are low.

If it does hit, is France prepared?                 

Yes, or at least according to Health Minister Marisol Touraine. She says France has both the equipment and staff to be able to adequately prevent the virus from spreading. Specific hospitals in every region have been designated to deal with cases of Ebola and in each of those, isolation wards will be set up to keep victims of the virus separate away from other patients. A laboratory is also on stand-by to carry out tests as soon as a suspected case is detected. 

What other precautions has France taken?

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued an advisory warning against any unnecessary travel to the countries currently hit by the outbreak. Or, if a French citizen still needs to go there, then they are recommended to stay away from the Ebola epicentres.

For those who can’t stay away from the Ebola-hit regions, the ministry has issued a list of guidelines when it comes to food and hygiene, advising anyone from eating or handling any meat from wild animals (bushmeat) and to always wash their hands. It also says to avoid all contact with people displaying a high fever, who are bleeding, or have an upset stomach.

Following a visit to a high-risk area, anyone returning to France is asked to take their temperature on a daily basis for a period of at least three weeks. Should a person display a fever of 38.5°C or over, it is treated as a suspected case of Ebola and the person must immediately report to the authorities.

And how deadly is Ebola?

Very. Since February it has killed nearly 900 people in West Africa. According to the World Health Organization, an outrbreak of the virus has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Since the virus was discovered almost 40 years ago, most Ebola outbreaks have been reported in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near rainforests.

The virus is transmitted by wild animals, such as fruit bats, and in between humans through body fluids.

An Ebola-infected patient will require excellent intensive care in order to survive since the virus attacks multiple organ systems at the same time.Today, there is no licensed cure or vaccine available against Ebola, but two American aid workers infected by the virus while in West Africa are reportedly recovering after receiving an experimental serum.

For more information on Ebola, you can visit the World Health Organisation's website by CLICKING HERE

by Louise Nordstrom

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Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region

French President Francois Hollande will on Friday begin a visit to Guinea, making him the first Western leader to travel to a country hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus.

Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region
Guinean Red Cross workers wearing protective suits carry the corpse of a victim of Ebola in Macenta. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Guinea has already lost 1,200 people to the disease which has killed over 5,600 in total and infected almost 16,000, mainly in west Africa, according to World Health Organization figures.

The visit, the first by a French president since 1999, is a bid to deliver "a message of solidarity" to Guinea as it battles the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976.

France has pledged 100 million euros ($125 million) as a contribution in the fight against Ebola, focusing its efforts on Guinea.

The money is due to help with financing several care centres in Guinea as well as funding 200 beds, some of which are reserved for health workers caring for the sick.

France has also pledged to set up two training centres for health workers, one in France and one in Guinea. In addition, French biotechnology companies will set up rapid diagnostic tests in Africa.

During the trip, Hollande was due to visit healthcare facilities, participate in a round-table discussion on Ebola as well as hold talks with his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde.

After the one-day trip to Guinea, Hollande travels to Dakar to take part in a summit of French-speaking leaders that is likely to be dominated by the Ebola crisis as well as the recent unrest in Burkina Faso.

The OIF (International Organisation of French-Speakers) is expected to appoint a successor to former Senegalese leader Abdou Diouf.

However, there is no clear front-runner from the five main candidates, with a French government source telling AFP: "Anything could happen, including a last-minute candidate."

The OIF was founded in 1970 with the ambition to be a "French Commonwealth", a rival to the mainly English-speaking group of countries that are predominantly former British colonies.

But it is battling to find its relevance and retain its funding at a time when many governments find their budgets under pressure. France reduced its funding for the group by 20 percent this year.

French is currently spoken by close to 274 million people, with more than 50 percent of those in Africa — the 5th most spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic or Hindu depending on how it is calculated.

By 2050, the percentage of French speakers based in Africa is due to rise to 85 percent, with 700 million Francophones expected on the continent by then.