Courtesy of NPR/Adam Cole


Measles virus structure

This image displays how infectious various diseases are: putting Ebola in the context of HIV, Hepatitis C, Mumps, and Measles using their “R0” score, which refers to the basic reproduction number of each contagion. This represents the average number of people who an infected individuals passes the virus onto, during an outbreak.

Keep in mind that things like time play a major role, with HIV being much less directly infectious than Ebola but persisting for a longer period of time. A reproduction rate of 2 is still nothing to laugh at: each person tends to infect 2 others with the virus, who then infect 2 others and so forth. Such a virus can spread out of control, which is currently the case in West Africa, and is the reason the WHO (World Health Organization) declared a global emergency on August 8th (for more detailed information about Ebola, read our 6 things everyone should know about the Ebola crisis).

Ebola’s spread is hindered by its own quick onset, with severe symptoms, and the fact that individuals can only spread the virus while they are displaying symptoms. An outbreak can thus be contained with relative ease by simply quarantining anyone an infected person has had close contact with before they begin to get sick and be able to spread it to others. The issue is developing nations is primarily that they lack the resources to quickly assess who has the virus and to contain the situation. There is also the issue that people in some of these nations, like Liberia, do not trust the doctors or government and have even broken into facilities which were quarantining people with Ebola.


Ebola virus structure

Ebola is also not airborne, despite the continued postings on social media claiming otherwise. Firstly, there is no evidence of airborne transmission other than from pig to monkeys (and pigs are especially virulent in regard to aerosol tranmission) and not even monkey-to-monkey. Secondly, despite the fact that the current Ebola is mutating twice as fast in humans as in other hosts (and primarily in its viral shell (capsid)), its basic morphology prevents it from travelling very well through the air (or floating in the air at all).

You see, the “airborne” quality of Ebola being discussed is essentially how well it binds to human epithelial (surface) tissue of the lungs. The virus is one of about 4 members of the Filoviridae family, which is derived from the latin word “filo,” meaning a cable of wire. Unlike truly airborne viruses like Influenza A or measles, which resemble a particle of pollen morphologically, Ebola is not built to float through the air. Independant of how well any strain of Ebola is able to bind to cells of your lungs: it is not going to fly very well or very far, nor will it stay in the air for very long.

Ebola is dangerous, and you should definitely do your best to avoid contact with it. But, there is absolutely no reason to panic, nor do you have much to worry about unless you live in West Africa. If you live in Dallas, or somewhere else with a very small number of quarantined individuals: remain calm and understand that you do not live in Nigeria.