Doctor JOSE MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA, Head of CNMV Virology at the Carlos III Health Institute, and Doctor RAFAEL DELGADO, Head of the Microbiology Service of the 12 de Octubre University Hospital in Madrid, answers the question worrying people all over the world, “Can the Ebola virus only be spread through very close contact with a sick patient?”
HOW DOES EBOLA SPREAD?
JOSE MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: The Ebola virus can only be spread through very close contact with a sick patient.
RAFAEL DELGADO: Direct contact with their secretions, blood, vomit or diarrhoea; you need to come into very close contact.
HOW DOES EBOLA NOT SPREAD?
RAFAEL DELGADO: This is not a virus that can be spread through casual contact or by touching objects that may have been touched by sick patients.
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: If your next-door neighbour is infected but not yet admitted to hospital, you don’t need to worry about touching the lift door handle, lift buttons or the seats on the bus you take every day. The Ebola virus does not spread that way.
RAFAEL DELGADO: It is not an airborne virus. Very close contact with patients is required, direct contact with an infected patient.
IS IT EASY TO CATCH?
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: The Ebola virus is not a highly contagious virus, it is not a highly infections virus; quite the opposite.
RAFAEL DELGADO: Estimates suggest that someone infected with Ebola can infect less than two people.
HOW LONG DOES THE VIRUS SURVIVE OUTSIDE THE BODY?
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: If the virus is contained in something that dries out quickly, it can only survive there for a few hours.
RAFAEL DELGADO: Its survival on surfaces like telephones and door handles is very limited and, of course, highly susceptible to all means of disinfection.
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: If, for example, it is present in the vomit of a patient, which might take a long time to dry out, and it remains hydrated at normal room temperature, it might survive for a couple of days.
CAN IT BE SPREAD THROUGH FOOD?
RAFAEL DELGADO: It is extraordinarily difficult for it to spread through food unless circumstances exist in which the food has been contaminated with the blood, vomit or any other bodily fluid from a patient. Generally-speaking, it is highly unlikely you will catch the virus from sharing utensils within a family environment.
It is far more likely to be spread by handling dead game animals. You need to skin it, gut it… All that means you are in contact with the animal’s blood. That probably carries more risk than eating the animal’s meat because meat is cooked.