Now that Ebola has arrived on U.S. soil, public concern is growing and a lot of people have questions about how the disease is spread, how it can be contained, and what they can do to protect themselves and their families.
CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook tackled some of the most commonly asked Ebola questions in a Q&A session on Facebook. Maybe your question is one of them:
Q. Can Ebola be transmitted through coughing/sneezing/shaking hands?
A: "The CDC says Ebola is not transmitted through the air, so someone would have to cough or sneeze directly onto the person. The CDC says it is transmitted through body fluids such as blood, vomit, stool, urine, and even semen. And someone who shakes hands is considered at low risk for exposure."
Q. How long does the virus live outside the body? Can it be transmitted through surfaces (for example if someone sneezes and wipes their hand on a subway handrail, etc.)?
A: "There's not a lot of hard data on this. What's reassuring is a study done during an Ebola oubreak in Uganda in 2000. Specimens were taken within an isolation ward from various items (e.g., mattress, changing room desk, floor, bed frame, light switch). Of 33 specimens, only two tested positive for virus and both were obviously contaminated with blood."
Q. Do we have anything to be worried about? What can be done to protect ourselves?
A: "This is a huge problem in West Africa, but there is a big difference between Africa and the U.S. Here we have a robust health care system that the CDC is confident can effectively contain cases of Ebola through standard, tried-and-true infectious disease control methods that include isolating patients and closely monitoring their contacts."
Q. Can the virus become airborne?
A: "The virus has not become an airborne transmitted disease since it was first identified in the 1970's."
Q. What is being done to monitor/isolate people coming to the U.S. from affected areas? Why isn't travel to/from affected areas being shut down?
A: "The CDC has set up monitoring stations at affected transit points in West Africa. Passengers are given a health screening card and temperatures are taken. The CDC has asked airline personnel to be aware of anyone who has a fever or shows symptoms while on the flight and to notify health officials at the airport. That patient would be assessed at a quarantine station and would not be allowed entry until tests were done to rule out Ebola or other contagious diseases."