How Do You Catch Ebola: By Air, Sweat Or Water?
There’s no question Ebola is one of the most terrifying diseases out there. It causes a painful death, typically kills more than 50 percent of those infected and essentially has no cure.
But if you compare how contagious the Ebola virus is to, say SARS or the measles, Ebola just doesn’t stack up. In fact, the virus is harder to catch than the common cold.
That’s because there has been no evidence that Ebola spreads between people through the air. Health experts repeatedly emphasize that human-to-human transmission requires direct contact with infected bodily fluids, including blood, vomit and feces.
And to infect, those fluids have to reach a break in the skin or the mucous membranes found around your eyes, mouth and nose.
But that hasn’t stopped two-thirds of Americans from thinking that the virus spreads “easily,” a poll from Harvard School of Public Health found in August. Almost 40 percent of the 1,025 people surveyed said they worry about an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. More than a quarter were concerned about catching the virus themselves.
Many questions still linger. Is Ebola really not airborne? Can it spread through contaminated water? What about through a drop of blood left behind on a table?
So we took those questions to two virologists: Alan Schmaljohn at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Jean-Paul Gonzalez at Metabiota, a company that tracks global infectious diseases.
Photo: A burial team in Barkedu, Liberia, buries their protective clothing alongside the body of an Ebola victim. It’s possible to catch the virus from clothing soiled by infected blood or other bodily fluids. (Tommy Trenchard for NPR)