Can Ebola spread through the air?
No, the virus that causes Ebola is not transmitted through the air. Unlike a cold or the flu, the Ebola virus is not spread by tiny droplets that remain in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Ebola is spread between humans when an uninfected person has direct contact with body fluids of a person who is sick with the disease or has died. People become contagious when they develop symptoms.
Body fluids that can transmit Ebola include:
- Breast milk
- Vaginal fluids
- Pregnancy-related fluids
What is the path of transmission?
Research suggests that fruit bats are most likely the original hosts of the Ebola virus. Other animals that have been infected include chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines. There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects transmit the Ebola virus.
For humans, the source of exposure to virus-carrying body fluids may include:
- An infected animal
- Another person who has symptoms of the disease or has died from the disease
- Contaminated objects, such as clothing, bed linens, doorknobs, needles and other medical equipment, or other surfaces
After people have recovered, the virus can often be detected for many months in certain body fluids, including semen, breast milk and urine.
The virus enters a person through a break in the skin or through the mucous membranes, such as the tissues of the eyes, nose, throat or vagina. For example, you could become infected if you touched infected body fluids and then touched your eyes.
The time from infection to the appearance of symptoms (incubation period) is usually eight to 10 days but can range from two to 21 days.
March 24, 2023
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Bray M, et al. Epidemiology and pathogenesis of Ebola virus disease. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed March 17, 2021.
- Ebola (Ebola virus disease): Transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/index.html. Accessed March 17, 2021.
- AskMayoExpert. Viral hemorrhagic fever. Mayo Clinic; 2019.
- Ebola virus disease. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ebola-virus-disease. Accessed March 17, 2021.
- Bennett JE, et al. Marburg and Ebola virus hemorrhagic fevers. In: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 17, 2021.