Could Ebola become airborne? If so, then what?

The most recent news on Ebola (EVD or Ebola Viral Disease) is a worrying outbreak in a major city in Africa. Mbandaka is a city of 1.2 million residents in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a major transport hub along the Congo River. The recent outbreak has health officials worried that the disease will spread rapidly in the city, and then infect other cities along the river.

In the past, Ebola outbreaks in Africa remained in rural villages, and subsequently died out. But a city outbreak is a major game changer. Modern transportation means that diseases can jump from city to city, nation to nation, and continent to continent more easily than ever before. Ebola could spread from cities in Africa to Europe, and then to the U.S. It could spread to Asia or South America, and then to North America. It could spread directly from Africa to a major U.S. city, such as New York. The U.S. receives millions of visitors each year from other nations.

Stopping a city outbreak is nearly impossible. There is a vaccine, and it is said to be 100% effective — against one strain of Ebola, if you are vaccinated before being infected: Experimental Ebola vaccine. But the number of doses available is very limited. If the disease spreads to multiple major cities, good luck getting a dose of the vaccine. They will vaccinate persons who are close to infected patients and also healthcare workers. Maybe workers in a morgue or funeral home could get the vaccine. In Africa, Ebola often spreads from the dead body of victims. But ordinary citizens are not getting this vaccine anytime soon.

Any vaccine is only effective against a particular strain of the virus. Even if the vaccine is 100% effective against the strain it was designed to prevent, the virus could mutate rapidly, making the vaccine useless. And we don’t have the capability to ramp up vaccine production to tens of millions of doses.

What is the best strategy for preppers during an outbreak? Stay home as much as possible. Avoid hospitals and doctor’s offices, where infected persons might go for treatment. Avoid restaurants (remember typhoid Mary?) and crowded places. Be as self-sufficient as possible. Stock up on N95 respirator masks. The cloth or paper surgical masks are useless. Stay away from all public places. Make sure you have at least 6 months of food and water.

Ebola is spread by contact with bodily fluids. It is not currently airborne. The problem is that the virus could become airborne. Multiple cases of airborne Ebola (and the related disease Marburg) are described in the non-fiction book “The Hot Zone”.

“The Ebola Reston virus is almost certainly transmitted by some airborne route. Those Hazleton workers who had the virus—I’m pretty sure they got it through the air.” [The Hot Zone, p. 364]

Airborne transmission of Ebola is known to have occurred in a laboratory setting between primates: Transmission of Ebola virus (Zaire strain) to uninfected control monkeys in a biocontainment laboratory. This establishes the possibility of airborne transmission between humans (not yet known to have occurred).

The types of Ebola currently infecting Africa are not known to be airborne. But viruses mutate rapidly. Once Ebola strikes a major city, any city anywhere, it is likely to develop an airborne strain very quickly. And airborne Ebola would be a TEOTWAWKI pandemic event. It would make the Spanish Flu epidemic seem tame by comparison.

The Spanish flu had a mortality rate of 10 to 20%. The mortality rate of Ebola is 50 to 90%. The Spanish flu infected 500 million persons. A 50% death rate would have killed 250 million, instead of the 50 to 100 million who are estimated to have died. But that was in 1918, when the world population was smaller. A Spanish flu type disaster today would kill hundreds of millions, and an airborne Ebola outbreak today, of similar extent, would kill an even greater number of persons. The death toll could be 500 million or more.

– Thoreau

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