Ebola doesn’t spread through the air like a cold or flu. With some Americans on edge over the news of the country’s first Ebola patient, the World Health Organization issued a statement Monday clarifying how the virus does and doesn’t spread.
Ebola doesn’t spread easily like the flu, a cold or measles.
The virus isn’t airborne. Instead, it’s in a sick person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, urine, semen or saliva. Another person can catch the disease by getting those germs into his own body, perhaps by wiping his eyes or through a cut in the skin.
Bodily fluids aren’t contagious until the infected person begins to feel sick. The initial symptoms are easily confused with other illnesses, however: fever, headaches, flu-like body aches and abdominal pain. Vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes bleeding follow as the disease progresses, increasing the risk to others.
In West Africa, the disease has spread quickly to family members who tended the sick or handled their bodies after death, and infected doctors and nurses working under punishing conditions, without proper equipment. Bed sheets or clothing contaminated by bodily fluids also spread the disease.
Can you catch it on a bus or plane? It’s very unlikely. To be on the safe side, the CDC defines “contact” with the disease as spending a prolonged period of time within 3 feet of someone ill with Ebola, a distance designed to protect health workers from projectile vomiting.
But health officials haven’t seen real world cases of the virus spread by casual contact in public, such as sitting next to someone on a bus, said Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director.
“All of our experience with Ebola in Africa the last four decades indicates direct contact is how it spreads,” he said, “and only direct contact with someone who is ill with Ebola.”