Ebola and air travel: Virus is not a threat to U.S.

ebola outbreak epidemic virus liberia
The Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 1,000 lives, with Liberia being the hardest-hit.
Credit: Getty Images

Though the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was detected in the 1970s is not yet contained, there’s reason to be hopeful.

There is no confirmed cure for the deadly disease, but Dr. Kent Brantly, one of two medical missionaries who underwent an experimental treatment this month after becoming infected, released a statement saying that he is “recovering in every way.” The World Health Organization last week endorsed the use of experimental drugs to combat the disease, though supplies are limited.

The group also issued a statement to quell growing concerns about the potential for Ebola to spread internationally.

Dr. Robert Amler, dean of the Institute of Public Health at New York Medical College and a former chief medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the chances of Ebola spreading by air travel extraordinarily small.

“The disease is not highly contagious among people who have casual contact,” he said.

Ebola can’t be transmitted through the air like the flu, nor is it a food- or water-borne illness. It can spread only through “very, very direct contact” with the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person.

“If someone is not sick, they’re not contagious; and if they are sick, they’re going to be too sick to travel,” he said. “Even if they wanted to travel, the airlines are not going to board someone who is obviously very sick.”

Additionally, airlines have CDC-approved guidelines on how to handle a sick person onboard.

Ebola cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and, most recently, Nigeria, with 2,240 confirmed diagnoses and 1,229 deaths as of Tuesday. Despite two recent scares, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in New York City, the disease has never been detected outside of Africa.

There are two factors that have made this outbreak worse than previous incidents, according to Amler: This particular strain of the virus is more lethal, and it cropped up in a densely populated area as opposed to being confined to a rural village.


Hope on the horizon

The CDC has dispatched a team of disease control experts to help local health officials, which makes Amler optimistic that the situation will improve.

“I think that’s a very positive development because the science of disease control, just like the laws of physics, don’t change much from one continent to another,” he said. “We can expect that the disease control measures, once put in place, will be effective.”

Follow Eva Kis on Twitter @thisiskis or email eva.kis@metro.us. 


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