Ebola is frequently portrayed as a virus that is transmitted via direct contact with an infected individual but this can be misleading. The term is technically correct and not unfair to use but can result in misunderstanding by the general public and even so called medical experts. Ebola has been observed to transmit through direct contact with a single virus. Direct contact with the virus is not akin to direct contact with an infected patient. Contact with the virus can occur in the absence of the individual if the virus survives on a surface or in fluids.

How does Ebola Spread (Handshake)

By Tobias Wolter (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The virus is known to survive outside the human body on several surfaces including plastic and glass and can survive for several days outside a host if contained in bodily fluids. The virus is found in all human fluids in sufficient amounts to allow for transmission. Tears, Mucus, Sweat, Urine, etc. all contain the virus and are all infectious. In contrast HIV is not transmitted with common bodily fluids and usually only via blood or intimate contact.

Any and all objects that come into contact with Ebola must be disinfected or destroyed. Blankets and clothing used by sick individuals are of particular concern and are often burnt after use. The following table attempts to describe the possible transmission methods based on current knowledge from the CDC, WHO & Doctors in the field. The table is expected to change as a broader understanding of the virus is reached.

Action Transmission Potential Reason
Sexual Intercourse Highly Probable Bodily Fluids
Sharing Needles Highly Probable Bodily Fluids
Sharing Eating Utensils Probable Saliva Contamination
Sharing Food Probable Saliva Contamination
Sharing Drinks Probable Saliva Contamination
Sharing Clothing Probable Sweat/Bodily Fluids
Sharing Bed Linen Probable Sweat/Bodily Fluids
Being Sneezed On Probable Bodily Fluids
Being Coughed On Probable Bodily Fluids
Contact with Sweat Probable Known Transmission
Contact with Urine Probable Known Transmission
Contact with Feces Highly Probable Known Transmission
Contact with Blood Highly Probable Known Transmission
Kissing Highly Probable Saliva Contamination
Hugging Probable Sweat/Bodily Fluids
Hand Shaking Low Probability Sweat/Bodily Fluids
Breast Milk Consumption Highly Probable Known Transmission
Semen Contact Highly Probable Known Transmission
Bush meat consumption Probable Known Transmission
Contact with Ebola Body Highly Probable Known Transmission
Sharing a home Low Probability Not Airborne

A key point to remember is that current knowledge of Ebola indicates that the virus must be transferred to the host directly by entering through open wounds, the mouth or the eyes. As an example shaking hand in itself may not transmit the virus but if the virus is transferred via sweat from one hand to another and a person touches their face there is an increased risk of transmission. By the same thinking sharing a home does not always result in transmission however it does increase the chances of physical contact which could lead to transmission.

Common Questions:

Can Ebola spread in sewage?

Yes Ebola can and will spread via raw sewage however there is no evidence of transmission via treated water. Modern water treatment facilities add chemicals to filtered water including chlorine which is known to kill the Ebola virus. Ebola is not considered a waterborne virus either further reducing the chances of infection via treated tap water.

Will I get Ebola from from being near an infected person?

Currently there is no indication that simply being near a person infected with Ebola will transmit the virus. The reality however is that by being in close proximity the chances of transmission occurring are increased substantially. There is some evidence to support limited aerosol transmission which also indicates a higher risk for close proximity transmission. The virus is classified as a bio safety level 4 agent requiring extreme protective measures to prevent infection. Health care workers are often infected while providing care to patients.

Can my pets carry Ebola?

Very Likely. Some studies indicate that dogs may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. A dog would need to consume infected meat or bodily fluids to become a carrier.

Can I get infected from a public restroom?

Yes, Ebola can survive outside the human body for several hours. Restroom activities have a high risk for transmission.

Are the experts wrong about how Ebola is spread?

Possibly, it took several years for doctors and scientists to fully understand how HIV was spread. The understanding of Ebola will increase as more experience is gained.

My neighbor has Ebola, am I safe?

Most likely, Ebola requires contact transmission. If you are not in direct contact with you neighbor the chance of transmission is low.