Can You Get Ebola from a Sneeze?
Do you have of fear of getting Ebola? I’m not talking about panic just the thought that it could happen. There is a lot known about the disease but there is also unknowns. I am thinking about it because my husband flies frequently to Washington DC and Dallas. I know on those flights he is with people from all over the world. He was in the airport on the day the man who eventually died was there.
I know if he contracts the disease, I will also. I’m not so much afraid for myself as I am for my children and their families. I live close to my daughter and I am of the age that if I get sick she comes to me to help. What do I do from now on just tell her to stay away. I know if it’s not flu like symptoms then there won’t be an issue. I just have to leave this in God’s hands.
I think it is important for everyone to stay aware of what is happening. Knowledge about the disease will keep down panic, no matter what is happening in the world.
While experts argue over whether Ebola will mutate and become airborne, questions linger about what exactly airborne means in the first place.
For example, could you get Ebola from a sneeze? And, if so, would that mean it was airborne?
“With airborne illnesses, like influenza or tuberculosis, you can easily get sick by inhaling tiny pathogenic particles floating around in the air,” according to NPR, based on interviews with two virologists, Alan Schmaljohn at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Jean-Paul Gonzalez at Metabiota.
That’s not the case with Ebola, which requires large droplets to transfer.
Could Ebola Become Airborne?
“That means an Ebola-infected person would likely have to cough or sneeze up blood or other bodily fluids directly in your face for you to catch the virus,” Schmaljohn told NPR. “If that drop of blood doesn’t land on your face, it will just fall to the ground. It won’t be swimming in the air, waiting to be breathed in by an unsuspecting passerby.”
So while it’s theoretically possible for someone with Ebola to sneeze and emit a large drop of saliva into someone’s eye, it’s so unlikely that health officials don’t waste much time parsing out those hypothetical scenarios, Schmaljohn said.
“WHO is not aware of any studies that actually document this mode of transmission. On the contrary, good quality studies from previous Ebola outbreaks show that all cases were infected by direct close contact with symptomatic patients,” the World Health Organization says.
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Doctors tend to have a different definition of “airborne” than the general public, Reuters points out. To doctors, it means that the germs are so tiny that they can float in the air for long periods, even when dry. They can infect people from a distance because they make their way deep into lungs when inhaled. Chickenpox, measles and tuberculosis are examples of airborne diseases.
A more appropriate term for Ebola, then, may be “droplet-borne.”
With Ebola, “when someone coughs, sneezes or … vomits, he releases a spray of secretions into the air,” according to Reuters. “This makes the infection droplet-borne. Droplet-borne germs can travel in these secretions to infect someone a few feet away, often through the eyes, nose or mouth. This may not seem like an important difference, but it has a big impact on how easily a germ spreads.”
And the good news? Droplet-borne diseases are much harder to spread than airborne illnesses.
BY SHEILA M. ELDRED