If someone rides the subway and a day or two later comes down with Ebola, the person or person who shared the subway car with you need not be too concerned. Ebola is not airborne, especially when a person is not showing any signs of the illness. No fever, etc. Th actually happened recently occurred in New York and I doubt anyone who rode the subway with the good doctor will become ill. But for the healthcare workers who will take care of the ill doctor, the risk of infection is high unless all precautions are taken and no errors are made.
The everyday use of the term airborne is not so restrictive. Anything moving through the air, even a short distance, is said to be airborne. Most of us would consider big droplets propelled through the air by a violently ill patient as being briefly airborne. One can become infected by the Ebola virus by coming in contact with these large, violently expelled droplets. For this reason, medical personnel need to be completely protected. No exposed skin, eyes protected by goggles. Face masks must meet strict standards. And no quibbling over the use of the word airborne.
The following Public Health Agency of Canada bulletin may have been removed from the Web and the posting changed partially because of the non-technical use of the word "airborne." Personally, I don't think health care workers and others working in close proximity to an Ebola patient want a lecture on the technical meaning of "airborne".
If the word airborne adds confusion to a life and death situation, let's drop the word. Let's aim for clarity as well as accuracy. Lives depend up it.
The above quote is from a pathogen safety data sheet once available from the Public Health Agency of Canada. I understand the sheet has now been modified. I found the sheet containing the warning in the Wayback Machine Internet archives.
Ebola is deadly. Depending upon the strain and other factors it kills anywhere from 25 percent up to 90 percent of those infected. Frontline healthcare workers are clearly at great risk. With two nurses in Texas having now tested positive for Ebola, it is time to tighten the protocols.
Doctors Without Borders warns even testing material for Ebola presents "an extreme biohazard risk and should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions. A number of human-to-human transmissions have occurred due to a lack of protective clothing."
"Health workers are particularly susceptible to catching it [Ebola] so, along with treating patients, one of our main priorities is training health staff to reduce the risk of them catching the disease while caring for patients," said Henry Gray, MSF’s emergency coordinator, during an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda in 2012.
"We have to put in place extremely rigorous safety procedures to ensure that no health workers are exposed to the virus — through contaminated material from patients or medical waste infected with Ebola."
It does not appear that the early containment procedures used in Texas were up to the standards set by groups with experience fighting Ebola, such as Doctors Without Borders.
- Latest Ebola Virus data sheet
- From pigs to monkeys, Ebola goes airborne
- Canadian expert warns nurses aren’t being given adequate life-saving protection
Today (Oct. 20th) the Associated Press is carrying a story reporting "revised guidance for health care workers treating Ebola patients. As of now, health care workers will be using protective gear "with no skin showing."
The article also makes clear hospital officials admit masks covering the nose and mouth were originally optional for nurses and others caring for Ebola patients. This may have been partially a result of a misunderstanding caused by the use of the word "airborne" in the warnings about the transmission routes taken by the disease.