Two Americans have contracted the Ebola virus amid a record outbreak in West Africa are now being treated in Atlanta, which has fueled fears of a potential outbreak in the United States.
“This is unlikely for a variety of reasons, most importantly, sanitation and infection control barriers in the US that are absent in Africa,” says Dr. David Greuner. “Ebola is much less contagious than many other more common diseases. The virus, much like HIV or Hepatitis is spread through blood or bodily fluids and is not airborne.”
Many factors play into how contagious a disease is thought to be. Most importantly:
> How it’s transmitted (airborne, bodily fluids, other)
> Infection-control practices in place, or the absence therof
> Extent of contact an infected person has with others – military groups and schools characteristically are high-spread zones
> Percent of the population that has been vaccinated (if a vaccine exists)
To gauge how contagious different diseases are, experts take these and other factors into account and estimate the average number of people likely to catch the illness from a single infected person. They call this the basic reproductive rate or number. The number is an average, a scientific guess, experts say, and it is likely to vary from country to country.
“Based on these criteria, the reproductive rate of Ebola virus in the US would be very low,” says Dr. Greuner.
“By comparison, measles, diphtheria, and whooping cough are all airborne, and they can be transmitted by simply being near an infected person, even without touching them. When that person coughs or sneezes, others may become infected after breathing in the organisms.”
Dr. David Greuner is the managing director of NYC Surgical Associates and a co-founder with Dr. Adam Tonis and Dr. David Luu of NYC Surgical Associates Cares, an international charity organization contributing modern, advanced and cutting edge minimally invasive surgical support and medical care to underserved populations worldwide.