If you’ve read anything about the Ebola virus, you’ve no doubt learned that it’s an agonizing way to die and something to avoid altogether. That helps explain the uproar over the weekend after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deicded to treat two Americans with the disease in Atlanta. A plane carrying one of the Ebola patients even landed in Bangor, Maine.
But you’re very likely not going to catch Ebola, and it’s not going to spread around the globe like a real-life version of the movie “Contagion.” Here’s the long version and short version explaining why.
The long version
Unlike bird flu or other illnesses that really could cause a global pandemic, Ebola is not an airborne illness. Nature Magazine explains it this way:
Though the strain of Ebola in the current outbreak appears to kill 56% of the people it infects, to become infected in the first place, a person’s mucous membranes, or an area of broken skin, must come into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, such as blood, urine, saliva, semen or stools, or materials contaminated with these fluids such as soiled clothing or bed linen. By contrast, respiratory pathogens such as those that cause the common cold or flu are coughed and sneezed into the air and can be contracted just by breathing or touching contaminated surfaces, such as door knobs. A pandemic flu virus can spread around the world in days or weeks and may be unstoppable whereas Ebola only causes sporadic localized outbreaks that can usually be stamped out.
According to the World Health Organization, you would know if you’ve come in contact with the virus because it’s only transmitted from people who are already symptomatic:
The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from 2 to 21 days. The patients become contagious once they begin to show symptoms. They are not contagious during the incubation period.
The short version
Still worried? Maybe this flow chart will help ease your troubled mind: