Ebola Home > The Great Ebola Scare

With confirmed Ebola cases in the United States, concern over how the disease is spread and how to prevent transmission may be at the forefront of your mind. Make sure you have all the facts at hand, however. For example, Ebola can spread via droplet transmission, but airborne transmission is extremely unlikely. Read on for more important Ebola facts.


Separating Ebola Fact from Fiction

Ebola is scary. It's deadly (it's fatal in 25 to 90 percent of cases), it's untreatable, and it's contagious. However, it's not a new virus, and Ebola outbreaks are not new. We know quite a bit about the Ebola virus, how it spreads, and how to contain it.
When confronted with scary information about Ebola, people have a tendency to choose one of two extremes, including:
  • Downplaying the actual risks to help reassure themselves
  • Exaggerating and overblowing the actual risks to help protect themselves.
Somewhere in the middle is likely a healthy medium. Yes, we shouldn't "hide under a rock" and ignore a growing and dangerous Ebola epidemic, but neither should we react in an unnecessarily alarmist way. What's the first step in dealing with Ebola fears in a smart way? Getting the facts and weeding out the fiction.

Fact 1: Airborne Transmission Is Unlikely

This fact is hotly contested. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and various other health agencies strongly insist that Ebola does not pass from person to person through airborne transmission.
Why then do some people continue to believe that Ebola can be transmitted this way? Some people have extrapolated data from other, nonhuman species (like pigs) that points to airborne transmission. However, viral transmission isn't the same across species lines. The fact remains that all hard scientific information we have available to us at this time suggests that the virus simply is not transmitted among humans via airborne transmission.
Notice that airborne transmission and droplet transmission are not the same thing. With airborne transmission, the virus becomes aerosolized and hangs in the air for an extended period. Airborne diseases (like tuberculosis and measles) are especially scary because they can spread without any close physical contact. Compare this to droplet transmission, which is essentially sneezing or coughing larger drops of saliva or mucus that quickly fall to the ground. Droplet transmission can transmit Ebola.
What does this mean? It's good news, because you have to be in very close proximity to a person in order to be infected via droplet transmission. Yes, droplet transmission is scary (haven't we all been sneezed on from time to time?), but it's not nearly as terrifying as airborne transmission.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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