Is Ebola Airborne?

Last Editorial Review: 10/1/2018

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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