Ebola 101: Answers to your questions surrounding the outbreak

Andrew Freedman --- Mashable 

Mashable is answering questions about the Ebola outbreak, which has sickened about 6,500 people in West Africa, and killed more than 3,300 to date. On Wednesday, the first case of this Ebola virus strain to be diagnosed in the U.S. took place in Dallas, Texas, after Thomas Eric Duncan contracted Ebola after traveling from Liberia, where he had helped transport a severely ill pregnant woman to a hospital.

Health officials are scrambling to identify and isolate any patients who may have come into direct contact with Duncan while he was suffering from Ebola symptoms, which is when he was contagious.

Q: What does "direct contact" even mean? What about touching a subway pole, bus seat or other surface that someone may have sneezed, coughed or sweated on? Could that spread the disease?

Ebola is only spread through direct contact with an infected person and their bodily fluids — it is not airborne. This means that even standing across the room from an Ebola patient will not likely cause you to become ill, unless you touch items the patient also touched while at a highly infectious stage of the disease.

“The safest thing anyone can do is avoid direct contact with bodily fluids of people who have Ebola, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with fluids,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

It is extremely unlikely that a random bus, subway pole or surface in an American or European city would have been touched by a patient showing symptoms of Ebola. In fact, the odds of contracting illnesses like the measles or the common cold are much higher, considering that only a single Ebola patient has been diagnosed in the U.S. so far.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, has a much more in depth section on Ebola transmission on its website.

“Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, food,” the CDC says. However, direct contact may include exposure to coughing or sneezing from an Ebola patient, even if those symptoms are not typical Ebola symptoms.

Coughing or sneezing could, in a rare instance, spread the disease, though Ebola patients typically don't suffer from those symptoms. A different CDC website says, "Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease."

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