(CNN) — Up to three Ebola-infected travelers might board an international flight each month in West Africa, according to a new study, and potentially spread the deadly virus to other countries.
Scientists used a model to predict that, on average, three people who are infected with Ebola will leave Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone in each of the coming months to fly to another country. They based their model on scheduled flights for September 1 to December 31, 2014, historic flight itineraries from 2013, and Ebola surveillance numbers from the current outbreak.
“We understand there could be global risks associated with the current outbreak,” said study author Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a specialist in infectious diseases and tropical medicine at the University of Toronto. “We wanted to understand what those risks were.”
Three passengers per month, or 2.8 to be exact, was around what Bogoch was expecting. Considering the number of people living in these West African countries, he says, the prevalence of the disease is still relatively low. Guinea, for example, has around 11.4 million people, and just over 1,500 recorded cases of Ebola.
Nonessential travel to and from these countries has also been reduced significantly over the past six months.
Of the approximately 500,000 travelers who flew out of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013, more than half flew to one of five countries: Ghana, Senegal, the United Kingdom, France and Gambia. In fact, the study authors say the likelihood of someone traveling to the United Kingdom or France with Ebola is about eight times higher than the likelihood of someone traveling to the United States with the disease.
Of course, Ebola has already come to the United States.
The study authors note that the majority of people flying out of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are traveling to other low- or middle-income countries. As one hospital in the United States has had some trouble preventing transmission, experts question whether less-equipped nations will be able to stop the virus.