Experts have reportedly not tested whether Ebola patients can infect others by coughing or sneezing even as one of the top experts on the particular strain of Ebola that has ravaged West Africa believes the virus is “primed” to go airborne.
Dr. David Sanders, a Purdue University biology professor who “has been studying the virus since 2003 – specifically how this particular Zaire strain of Ebola enters human cells,” told The Indy Channel (rtv6 ABC) that the Ebola virus “can enter the lung from the airway side” and is “primed to have respiratory transmission.”
“We need to be taking this into consideration,” Sanders said. “What if? This is not a crazy, ‘What if?’ This is not a wild, ‘What if?'”
According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report, “in August, researchers in West Africa, Europe and the United States sequenced the genomes of Ebola virus isolated from dozens of patients and found it acquired mutations as it spread,” but “they did not test whether those genetic changes affect its ability to infect and survive.”
Charles Bailey, executive director of the National Center of Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at George Mason University, told the outlet, “Is a mutation capable of making it airborne transmissible? Nobody knows.” He also reportedly “said that… concentrated aerosols of Ebola have shown the ability to infect” in experiments with monkeys.
“That experiment hasn’t been done yet,” Bailey said. “If there was no concern about aerosol transmission, then why are people wearing masks? There’s no absolutes.”
This weekend, a nurse at the Texas hospital that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian immigrant who died last week after becoming the first person on American soil to be diagnosed with Ebola, was diagnosed with Ebola. She became the first person on American soil to get Ebola via person-to-person transmission even though she wore full protective gear at the hospital. Officials are trying to determine how she contracted the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has sent mixed messages on the threat of airborne transmission, denying that that Ebola could be transmitted through the air before saying airborne transfer of Ebola is possible but unlikely.
“It’s a virus that doesn’t spread through the air, and that we do know how to control,” CDC Director Tom Friedan recently said during a press briefing. “We do know how to stop it.” Officials later conceded that mutations could make the virus airborne though continuing to stress that it was unlikely.
“Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease,” the website says.
Anthony Banbury, the United Nation’s Ebola chief, “has said there is a ‘nightmare’ prospect the deadly disease will become airborne if it continues infecting new hosts,” as the Daily Mail noted.
“It is a nightmare scenario, and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out,” Banbury said.