Is Ebola Airborne?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Ask the experts

What are all the ways you can contract the Ebola virus? Is Ebola airborne? Can you transmit Ebola sexually? How do you get Ebola?

Doctor's response

Ebola viruses are highly contagious once early symptoms such as fever develop. The infected patient sheds infectious viruses in all body secretions (bodily fluids); direct contact with any of these secretions may cause the virus transmission to uninfected individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that infection with Ebola that is airborne is theoretically possible but unlikely.

Ebola virus disease symptoms and signs may appear from about two to 21 days after exposure (average incubation period is eight to 10 days). It is unclear why some patients can survive and others die from this disease, but patients who die usually have a poor immune response to the virus. Patients who survive have symptoms that can be severe for a week or two; recovery is often slow (weeks to months) and some survivors have chronic problems such as fatigue and eye problems.

For those patients who survive infection, they may remain contagious for approximately 21-42 days after symptoms abate. However, health care professionals can remove the viruses from semen, breast milk, spinal column, and ocular fluids. It is unclear, according to the CDC, if these fluids can transmit viruses, although the CDC suggests that Ebola can be spread by semen and suggest male survivors of the disease abstain from sex or use a condom for all sexual activity.

The main way to prevent getting Ebola hemorrhagic fever is to not travel to areas where it is endemic and by staying away from any patients who may have the disease. Medical caregivers may protect themselves from infection by strict adherence to barriers to the virus (wearing gloves, gowns, goggles, and a mask). People can disinfect surfaces with alcohol-based (70%) wipes.

The following are the recommendations from the CDC to prevent getting Ebola (EVD) from an infected person. Avoid the following:

  • Contact with blood and body fluids (such as urine, feces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids)
  • Items that may have contacted an infected person's blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment)
  • Funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who died from EVD
  • Contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals (bushmeat) or meat from an unknown source
  • Contact with semen from a man who had EVD until you know the virus is gone from the semen

In addition, after leaving an area affected by EVD, individuals should monitor their health for 21 days; if a person develops any symptoms, he or she should immediately seek medical care and inform the medical caregivers of his or her exposure to Ebola.

For more information, read our full medical article on the Ebola virus.

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REFERENCES:

Henao-Restrepo, Ana Maria, et al. "Efficacy and effectiveness of an rVSV-vectored vaccine in preventing Ebola virus disease: final results from the Guinea ring vaccination, open-label, cluster-randomized trial (Ebola Ça Suffit!)." The Lancet 389.10068 Feb. 4, 2017: 505-518.<http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)32621-6/fulltext>.

Regules, Jason A., et al. "A Recombinant Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Ebola Vaccine." NEJM 376 (2017): 330-341. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1414216>.

Samb, Saliou. "Scale of Guinea's Ebola epidemic unprecedented: aid agency." Reuters. Mar. 31, 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/31/us-guinea-ebola-idUSBREA2U10E20140331>.

Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Final trial results confirm Ebola vaccine provides high protection against disease." Dec. 23, 2016. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2016/ebola-vaccine-results/en/>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever." June 22, 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever: Chronology of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Outbreaks." Apr. 7, 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/resources/outbreak-table.html>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Hospitalized Patients Under Investigation (PUIs) for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in U.S. Hospitals." Feb. 12, 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/healthcare-us/hospitals/infection-control.html>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "2018 Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bikoro." May 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/drc/2018-may.html>.

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Reviewed on 10/1/2018