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Everything You Wanted to Know about Ebola but You Suspect That the Media Is Lying To You: Part 1 of 3

October 20, 2014
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How Do I Keep From Getting Ebola?

It seems like all I hear about is the Ebola outbreak in the West Africa. Thousands are infected and dying. In Dallas, Texas, of all places, a man from Liberia has died of Ebola and two nurses are infected. A lab specialist that might be infected is on a cruise in the Caribbean, for crying out loud. What can I do to protect myself? Should I give up and write my will?

Although having a will is a good idea, don’t make an appointment with a lawyer just yet. Ebola is not that transmissible. You aren’t going to get it just from being in the same room with someone that has it.

But, you are thinking, I saw Contagion. I know how these things are spread. Well, the disease in Contagion was airborne. That means it was spread by very small droplets, called aerosols, that stay floating on the air currents like little life rafts. Because the aerosols, or life rafts, to continue my metaphor, are so small, they can drift quite a ways before they are pulled down by gravity and stick to a surface. If I sneeze, aerosols from my mouth and sinuses can fill a room and stay airborne a shocking amount of time. The pathogens survive on those little life rafts, waiting for some hapless person to suck them into their airways. For an airborne pathogen, getting sucked into an airway is like landing the life raft on a beach in Hawaii. Party time! This is why everyone in your class will eventually get the cold of that one guy sniffling and sneezing in the back row.

Ebola, on the other hand, is passed through direct contact of infectious fluids with a cut or mucous membrane. If you were in a room with someone in the infectious stage of Ebola, you would need to put your hand in blood or saliva from that person then rub your eye. Or they could sneeze in your face, but keep in mind that the Ebola virus would be in the snot, not the aerosols. Ebola doesn’t survive life raft rides very well.

But what about the nurses in Dallas? Hate to say it, but being a healthcare worker, like a nurse, makes you a prime candidate for getting Ebola. Nurses contact patient fluids all the time. They change bloody dressings, they change bedpans, they hold down delirious patients with high fevers. This is why healthcare workers that are taking care of Ebola patients layer on the protective personal equipment until they look like the Michelin Man. They need the extra protection.

So, deep breathes, everyone! No need to rush down to Home Depot and empty the shelves of masks and gloves!