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"We Can't Exclude The Possibility That Ebola Can Spread Through The Air," Expert Warns

"At this point there is zero risk of transmission on flights," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, supporting other public health officials who have voiced similar assurances, saying Ebola is spread only through physical contact with a symptomatic individual or their bodily fluids. However, as The LA Times reports, some scientists who have long studied Ebola say such assurances are premature - and they are concerned about what is not known about the strain now on the loose. Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak of the virus, and who later led the CDC's most far-reaching study of Ebola's transmissibility in humans, said he would not rule out the possibility that it spreads through the air in tight quarters..."We just don't have the data to exclude it."

 

As The LA Times reports, officials continue to stress how hard it is to get infected by Ebola...

"Ebola is not transmitted by the air. It is not an airborne infection," said Dr. Edward Goodman of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the Liberian patient remains in critical condition.

 

...Public health officials have voiced similar assurances, saying Ebola is spread only through physical contact with a symptomatic individual or their bodily fluids.

Yet some scientists who have long studied Ebola say such assurances are premature - and they are concerned about what is not known about the strain now on the loose. It is an Ebola outbreak like none seen before, jumping from the bush to urban areas, giving the virus more opportunities to evolve as it passes through multiple human hosts.

Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak of the virus among research monkeys housed in Virginia and who later led the CDC's most far-reaching study of Ebola's transmissibility in humans, said he would not rule out the possibility that it spreads through the air in tight quarters.

 

"We just don't have the data to exclude it," said Peters, who continues to research viral diseases at the University of Texas in Galveston.

 

Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army's Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government's massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also said much was still to be learned. "Being dogmatic is, I think, ill-advised, because there are too many unknowns here."

 

If Ebola were to mutate on its path from human to human, said Russell and other scientists, its virulence might wane — or it might spread in ways not observed during past outbreaks, which were stopped after transmission among just two to three people, before the virus had a greater chance to evolve. The present outbreak in West Africa has killed approximately 3,400 people, and there is no medical cure for Ebola.

 

"I see the reasons to dampen down public fears," Russell said. "But scientifically, we're in the middle of the first experiment of multiple, serial passages of Ebola virus in man.... God knows what this virus is going to look like. I don't."

Additionally, Charles L. Bailey supervised the government's response to an outbreak of Ebola among several dozen rhesus monkeys housed for research in Reston, Va., a suburb of Washington.

What Bailey learned from the episode informs his suspicion that the current strain of Ebola afflicting humans might be spread through tiny liquid droplets propelled into the air by coughing or sneezing.

 

"We know for a fact that the virus occurs in sputum and no one has ever done a study [disproving that] coughing or sneezing is a viable means of transmitting," he said. Unqualified assurances that Ebola is not spread through the air, Bailey said, are "misleading."

 

Peters, whose CDC team studied cases from 27 households that emerged during a 1995 Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo, said that while most could be attributed to contact with infected late-stage patients or their bodily fluids, "some" infections may have occurred via "aerosol transmission."

 

...

 

Though he acknowledged that the means of disease transmission among the animals would not guarantee the same result among humans, Bailey said the outcome may hold lessons for the present Ebola epidemic.

 

"Those monkeys were dying in a pattern that was certainly suggestive of coughing and sneezing — some sort of aerosol movement," Bailey said. "They were dying and spreading it so quickly from cage to cage. We finally came to the conclusion that the best action was to euthanize them all."

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Maybe that explains the 160,000 HazMat suits the US government just ordered...