Ebola Transmission

It is thought that fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are natural Ebola virus hosts. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with:

  • Blood or body fluids (urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
  • Directly touching the body of someone with the infection who has symptoms or recently died – the virus can survive for several days outside the body
  • Objects that have been contaminated with body fluids (like blood, feces, vomit) from a person sick with Ebola or the body of a person who died from Ebola
  • Cleaning up body fluids (blood, stools, urine or vomit) or touching the soiled clothing of an infected person
  • Objects (such as needles and syringes) contaminated with body fluids from a person sick with EVD or the body of a person who died from EVD
  • Having sex with an infected person without using a condom – studies show traces of Ebola may remain in a man’s semen many months after he has recovered
  • Handling or eating raw or undercooked “bushmeat”
  • Infected fruit bats or nonhuman primates (such as apes and monkeys)
  • Semen from a man who recovered from EVD (through oral, vaginal, or anal sex). The virus can remain in certain bodily fluids (including semen) of a patient who has recovered from EVD, even if they no longer have symptoms of severe illness.

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This occurs through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute in the transmission of Ebola.

People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.

Body fluids that can transmit Ebola include:

  • Blood
  • Feces
  • Vomit
  • Saliva
  • Mucus
  • Tears
  • Breast milk
  • Urine
  • Semen
  • Sweat

Can Ebola spread through the air

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that infection with Ebola that is airborne is theoretically possible but unlikely. Although Ebola is contagious, careful hygiene and barrier techniques can make the infection low risk for contagion

Unlike respiratory illnesses, which can spread by particles that remain in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes

Contagious period for the Ebola virus

When someone gets infected with Ebola, they will not show signs or symptoms of illness right away. The Ebola virus CANNOT spread to others until a person develops signs or symptoms of EVD. After a person infected with Ebola develops symptoms of illness, they can spread Ebola to others.

The infected patient sheds infectious viruses in all body secretions (bodily fluids); direct contact with any of these secretions may cause the virus transmission to uninfected individuals.

Additionally, Ebola virus usually is not transmitted by food. However, in certain parts of the world, Ebola virus may spread through the handling and consumption of bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food). There is also no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit Ebola virus.

Persistence of the virus

There is no known risk of becoming infected with Ebola virus through casual contact with a survivor. However, the virus can remain in certain bodily fluids and continue to spread to others after a person has recovered from the infection. The virus can persist in semen, breast milk, ocular (eye) fluid, and spinal column fluid. Areas of the body that contain these fluids are known as immunologically privileged sites. These are sites of the body where viruses and pathogens, like Ebola virus, can remain undetected even after the immune system has cleared the virus from other sites of the body. Scientists are now studying how long the virus stays in these body fluids among Ebola survivors.

During an Ebola outbreak, the virus can spread quickly within healthcare settings (such as clinics or hospitals). Clinicians and other healthcare personnel providing care should use dedicated medical equipment, preferably disposable. Proper cleaning and disposal of instruments such as needles and syringes are important. If instruments are not disposable, they must be sterilized before additional use.

On dry surfaces, like doorknobs and countertops, the virus can survive for several hours. However, in body fluids, like blood, the virus can survive up to several days at room temperature.

Pets and livestock

Serologic studies show that Ebola virus has been detected in dogs and cats found in Ebola affected areas, but there are no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with EVD, or spreading the Ebola virus to people or other animals.

Certain exotic or unusual pets (monkeys, apes, or pigs) have been known to be infected with Ebola virus. Pigs are the only species of livestock known to be at risk of infection by an Ebola virus. In the Philippines and China, pigs are naturally infected with Ebola Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus), which does not cause illness in people. In a laboratory setting, pigs have developed illness when infected with an extremely high dose of Zaire ebolavirus, but they are not known to be involved in the spread of this virus strain to humans.



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