The biggest part of the discussion is how Ebola is spread. I will say two things on the topic, no, it is not airborne, and yes, basic hygiene plays a HUGE factor. But while on the topic of whether it is or is not airborne, the definition of an airborne contagion is one that can freely float in the air, survive lengths of time, and infect someone else. VERY few things fit in this category, most have been eradicated, Polio, Small Pox, Tuberculosis. Things that are also NOT airborne, are the flu and the cold. For the flu, you have to come into direct contact with the patients body fluids. How then, do you explain why people catch it and have no idea how. Well for one, people can spread it before they show symptoms, just like Ebola, and one other HUGE factor…droplets….let that word really sink in. The virus may not be airborne, but the droplets are. I’m going to digress for a second and get back to HIV and hepatitis, while I let droplets dwell in your mind. Everyone knows that HIV and Hepatitis are spread by blood contact, and sexual fluids, I don’t mean a drop of blood on the skin, or even a mucous membrane, it has to get INSIDE of you. This is why only gloves are required. HIV and hepatitis are not found in urine, stool (Some forms of hepatitis are, but you have to eat the stool to get infected) saliva, sweat, tears, or mucous. This is where some viruses are different. The flu gets into your mucous and other secretions, Ebola tends to stay in the blood, but remember, every one of your bodily fluids are full of blood now. So a person with the flu sneezes, and now millions of little droplets (remember those guys?) shoot out of their nose at nearly mach 1, all across the room, same for a cough, all it takes is a little microscopic droplet to land in your eye, nose, mouth, or the unlikely scenario of an open wound, and you’ve now been infected, because you came in CONTACT with their bodily fluids. I see the word contact thrown around a lot, but most people think of mass amounts of contact with blood, but what they don’t realize is that contact also includes microscopic mucous and saliva droplets, each one chock full of Ebola. Now to the second part of this, HIV only lives outside of the human body for a few seconds, maybe minutes if the quantity is high enough, Hepatitis a bit longer. That’s why you hear about the dirty needles at movie theaters and playgrounds, but never hear of an infection, before the perpetrator even leaves the theater, the HIV he left in that needle has already died. Ebola on the other hand survives quite well outside of the host, I can’t find my source again, but I believe its up to 4 days.
So with all this information, lets have some role play, so that you can see exactly what this means, to a nurse, in the real world. Imagine it as a cheesy PSA or lifetime movie. You go to see your doctor because its that time of year, you need some blood drawn and refills of your blood pressure med. You sit patiently in the waiting room, thumbing a magazine while your 2-year-old plays with her toys. Like all two year olds, she touches everything, and everything goes in her mouth, toys, pens, her own fingers. She is a 22 lb drool factory and you love her to pieces. You see the doctor, get your goodies, and go home. A week later your angel starts vomiting blood and within 3 days she dies because her heart raced so fast it finally gave up while trying to maintain a blood pressure. Her eyes are blood red and demonic, her skin falls off in sheets. What you don’t know is that 3 days before your visit, someone thought they had the flu. It is October you see and they sneezed while thumbing through that very same magazine you thumbed through. The same thumb you grabbed her pacifier out of your purse with in the waiting room. The people caring for Ebola patients wear space suits, and burn the bodies, yet it still spreads. Here in America, we have much better protocols, and much better hygiene. So if it spreads, it will be contained much better. Still, it spreads prior to symptoms and survives will outside the body, just like the flu. Despite vaccines and good hand washing, thousands still get the flu every year. But while the flu kills 1-2% of its victims, Ebola kills 50% on a good day, and spreads the same way. So please, do not write it off as hype. It is a real thing and it is here.
The case in Dallas has been confirmed. The patient had contact with five children and adolescents prior to admission. Those five kids attend four of the largest schools in Dallas. One sneeze and we could already have thousands of people, who don’t know it yet, infected.