ebola virus
The death toll from Ebola has risen to 3,800, while experts have sounded the alarm that if the virus mutate and become airborne, it could be caught by breathing it in. Health officials had previously warned that the Ebola virus cannot be transmitted through the air and it develops via direct contact with bodily fluids – blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen – of an infected person who is showing symptoms. However, many top Ebola researchers assert that the virus mutating and spreading through the air should not be ruled out.

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Charles L. Bailey a renowned virus expert who in 1989 collaborated with the American government to avert an outbreak of Ebola among rhesus monkeys being used for research, stated: ‘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. Dr C J Peters, who has taken up research into Ebola for America’s Centers for Disease Control, stated: ‘We just don’t have the data to exclude it [becoming airborne].

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Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, stated experts who think that Ebola could become airborne detest discussing their concerns in public, for fear of inflaming hysteria.

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Talking about the likely future course of the current outbreak, he opined: ‘Another possibility is: that an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air.’

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It hints that virus that first broke out in Guinea in February may be a lot different to the one now invading other parts of West Africa. Dr Osterholm cited the example of the H1N1 influenza virus that saw bird flu sweep the globe in 2009, and stated: ‘If certain mutations happened, it would imply that mere breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola.’ He urged the United Nations to mobilise medical, public health and humanitarian aid to ‘stifle the outbreak’.