Can You Contract Ebola on an Airplane?

As Ebola has begun to spread outside of West Africa, people want to know if their risk of contracting the virus increase while up in the air.
ebola on airplanes
Photo by Caribb via Flickr

Airplanes have always been considered an easy place to catch a cold or virus due to the close proximity of passengers to one another. As the Ebola virus continues to make headlines after spreading outside of West Africa, the public has become increasingly weary of air travel.

While the chances of your seatmate having Ebola is low, it is easy to see why flyers might be concerned.

According to CNN.com:

Several airlines report they are following all U.S. Centers for Disease Controls protocols for keeping people with contagious diseases off their aircrafts. But a handful declined to give specifics about whether they’re now doing anything differently on U.S. domestic flights.

Airplanes are given light cleanings between flights, a much heavier daily cleaning and even more on down time, experts tell CNN. This is done to prevent transmission of common diseases, like the flu, via surfaces such as armrests. And it is much tougher to catch Ebola than the flu.

It’s unlikely the virus would spread on an airplane unless a passenger were to come into contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids, said Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

“This is not an airborne transmission,” Cetron told CNN. “There needs to be direct contact frequently with body fluids or blood.”

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Tips for Travelers

The most obvious tip that the U.S. government has given travelers is to avoid visiting areas experiencing outbreaks and avoid contact with Ebola patients.

Ebola is only contagious if the person is experiencing active symptoms.

Ebola symptoms include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat; followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and at advanced stage, both internal and external bleeding, according to the World Health Organization.

Due to the severity of the symptoms, it is unlikely that someone suffering from them would feel well enough to travel, the International Air Transport Association said in a statement.

The CDC is advising people to avoid all non-essential travel to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. In addition, everyone leaving those three countries has their temperature checked before they’re allowed to board a plane.

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