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Airdate: Dec 02, 2014
Scientist: Linsey Marr

Ebola - Unlikely Airborne

Ebola - Unlikely Airborne
Could the Ebola virus be transmitted through the air?

Ebola - Airborne?

Could the Ebola virus be transmitted through the air? I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Marr: It's very unlikely that ebola would be airborne. There's no evidence that it is. According to people who have been in the field; there's no to little infection in the respiratory tissues. And in a prior study, where they looked for the virus in saliva, only found infectious virus in one out of eight patients.

Lindsay Marr is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.

Marr: Ebola is not airborne in the traditional sense, like measles or influenza or other respiratory diseases. But it is possible in theory for the virus to be found in air. So there has to be a number of conditions: first of all the patient has to be sick enough that they have high concentration in their bodily fluids. They have to be coughing in order to generate the droplets in aerosols that could be present in air - but coughing is not really a symptom of ebola - then that generates a whole range of different sizes of droplets and aerosols. And the virus would have to be able to survive in those droplets and aerosols and then be inhaled by someone else in order to infect them. It seems like it's very unlikely, but at the same time, I don't think we can completely rule it out.

The size of the Ebola virus could limit its ability to be airborne, or the length of time it might survive in the air.

Marr: Ebola's a pretty large virus. It's almost a micron in length, so a human hair is about 70 microns in diameter. In comparison, the flu virus is one tenth that size. So the ebola virus probably is found more in larger droplets and aerosols which will tend to not stay suspended in air as long.

More on the Ebola virus in our next program. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.