The threat from the Ebola virus, currently ravaging several West African nations, has largely been played down by authorities in the rest of the world on the grounds that it requires actual contact with body fluids in order to be transmitted. Suddenly that seems to be changing. The CDC has advised airlines:
Management of ill people on aircraft if Ebola virus is suspected
Use the following precautions if an ill traveler (passenger or crew) has symptoms consistent with Ebola and was recently in a country with Ebola:
- Keep the sick person separated from others as much as possible.
- Provide the sick person with a surgical mask (if the sick person can tolerate wearing one) to reduce the number of droplets expelled into the air by talking, sneezing, or coughing.
- Give tissues to a sick person who cannot tolerate a mask. Provide a plastic bag for disposing of used tissues.
- Wear impermeable disposable gloves for direct contact with blood or other body fluids.
There’s more at the link. Bold underlined text is my emphasis, showing that actual physical contact with the sick person may no longer be required; one can still be infected by aerial transmission of droplets of body fluids.
Furthermore, the BBC reported in 2012:
Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of the ebola virus could be transmitted by air between species.
In experiments, they demonstrated that the virus was transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between them.
The researchers say they believe that limited airborne transmission might be contributing to the spread of the disease in some parts of Africa.
Again, more at the link.
Given that there’s no cure for Ebola, and the only treatment available is palliative for symptoms, I think we have to assume for safety’s sake that the risk of its spreading around the world may be a lot higher than the authorities have so far indicated. I’m not going to panic about it, but I’m going to follow the CDC’s advice and increase our stocks of surgical masks (the kind that filter out pathogens, not just the general dust masks used by handymen) and nitrile examination gloves. If things get worse, I plan to use them in higher-risk areas, no matter how silly it may seem – particularly wearing a mask when traveling on airlines or public transport. I’ve been in West Africa, and I’ve seen some of the diseases that lurk there and their effect on those who catch them. I’d hate to be among them.