One of the questions I am most asked about Ebola is its potential to be transmittable through the air. CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden and other top health officials say no, but now a reputable research facility is disputing this claim.

The well-known and respected Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota recently notified the CDC and the World Health Organization that “there isscientific and epidemiologic evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles.” For the first time, they include exhaled breath in their report.

CIDRAP has been involved in public health preparedness for epidemics since 2001. With regards to Ebola, they have always stated that it is unclear how the virus is transmitted, at least from an airborne standpoint. Their new stance is troubling and calls into question the opinions of just about every medical expert that you’ve seen in media.

I’ve always felt that the issue of airborne transmission was more a question of semantics than anything else. Ebola is well known to be transmittable by inhalation. Droplets of blood, vomit, mucus, saliva, and other fluids spewed into the air by a patient and then inhaled by another can certainly transmit the virus. Therefore, ebola can be caught through the air. The question is: Can you get it by simply breathing the air in the room and airplane where an ebola patient is present.

The answer is still “probably not likely”, but the CIDRAP report changes that to “probably not likely, but possible”.

CIDRAP also calls into question whether N95 respirator masks are effective in preventing inhalation of airborne Ebola virus. They state: “Healthcare workers have experienced very high rates of morbidity and mortality in the past and current Ebola virus outbreaks. A facemask or surgical mask, offers no or very minimal protection from infectious aerosol particles.” They recommend instead a “powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) with a hood or helmet”.

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