Note: This post has nothing to do with the usual stuff we write about on this website. It is a post I wrote to express my own personal opinions on a recent medical topic and give the general public some extra information on the developments of the Ebola virus that is causing massive panic in the developed nations. I want the readers to make up their own minds on what they think the Ebola virus is capable of after reading this post. Am I right or am I wrong?
A few days ago I was having a nice talk with a friend of mine and the subject switched to the news about Ebola. All this recent talk about the disease made me realize that people need to be informed on the facts about Ebola, and not what just the media outlets and the news websites on the internet are telling them. Here is the truth.
The Ebola virus can be transmitted through the air. It is airborne.
This is my personal opinion, based on some initial research on the medical research, and scouring through the PubMed articles. Let me explain. I first became aware of the Ebola virus more than 2 decades ago, in 1997 in a middle school science class. The teacher in a rather unusual change of pace decided to show the class a documentary on the Ebola virus, to show us why biology was important and why we needed to understand this medical school course known as Epidemiology. (For those who might not know, the way modern medical school curriculum is broken down, 2 of the 4 school years are actually devoted to real textbook learning, which included courses on immunology, virology, pharmacology, physiology, and epidemiology. Refer to Stanford Med’s Curriculum here).
The first incident of an Ebola outbreak occurred in Zaire back in 1976. Almost 20 years after the first incident, Ebola broke out again in Zaire in 1995. It has around a 90-95% mortality rate for people who contract the virus. In that incident almost 400 people were killed.
It turns out that under some military/government order, the Ebola virus was brought into the USA back in 1989. A few dozen laboratory monkeys in a lab in Virginia started to die. Under orders, all the 60+ monkeys in a lab room were all killed to stop the contanmination. However, that did not stop the monkeys from dying. After the first room was cleaned and all the monkey’s killed, a second room that was not connected to the first room started to also have the monkeys inside drop dead. It turned out that the Ebola Virus was being transmitted through the air duct/ventilation shafts. This shows that more than 2 and a half decades ago, the virus was already airborne for monkeys.
To say the least I was scared to my core after finishing that little science lesson. (Ironically, I would be shown another Virus Outbreak Documentary, this time on the 1918 Spanish Influenza in 9th grade science class. Using science to scare young kids seems to be a common tactic in my school days.) Back then, the scientists and researchers studying up on this virus still weren’t sure about how the particular virus was being transmitted. However, here is what is known about it back then.
What was known back then was that the Ebola virus can be transmitted through the tears, the blood, and the surface of the skin. Since this virus is not like a flea which can jump from one host to the next using its legs, the only other way it can go to another host is if there is sweat as a medium on the surface of the skin. Viruses also are not like bacteria, which might have legs, known as flagella or cilia, which let them crawl around. The second person touches the skin with the finger surface touching the wet sweat and that goes to them. So now we know that the Ebola virus can be transmitted through 1. tears, 2. blood, and 3. sweat.
Pandemics comes from one of three different types of micro-organisms, 1. bacteria, 2. viruses, and 3. parasites. The Ebola is a type of virus, scientific name Ebolavirus zaire. Parasites are usually transmitted through the body by the intestinal tract, and the blood (ie Tapeworm). Bacteria usually are not transmitted through the blood because the White T-Cells would find them and kill them. That comes down to viruses. The question then becomes “How can a virus be transmitted through sweat, blood, and tears?” Sweat and tears makes sense, but blood as well? The most obvious common denominator would be water, since all fluid coming out of a human are predominantly composed of water, even urine which has a lot of urea/ammonia. I think it is safe to assume that this type of virus survives and is transmitted through water based fluids.
For humans at least, the way that the virus was being transmitted 2 decades ago was from one healthcare worker to the next. Let’s say that the first person gets sick and is lying in a hospital bed. They are too sick to do the basic functions so they have a caretaker who is right next to them to bring them food and take them to the bathroom. Over time the caretaker gets sick. Like a domino effect, that caretaker is then put into bed, and the caretaker’s caretaker gets sick as well, and the cycle continues.
Dr. William Close, who wrote the book “Ebola” showed that one cough is enough to transmit it. If I remember correctly, a cough is releasing one’s internal body liquid into the air in the form of liquid droplet, like the vapor you would find in a steam room/sauna.
We could even use influenza as a good example, to describe the way ebola would behave, since they are both virus based. When we look at the wikipedia article for the Flu/Influenza, “...Half of flu cases arise when people inhale tiny particles that float in the air, ” The Flu has multiple ways for transmission. If you look at the Wikipedia article on “Influenza Prevention”, it defines one of three ways to prevent Influenza “….the airborne route (when someone inhales the aerosols produced by an infected person coughing, sneezing or spitting)” (Refer to http://www.journalofinfection.com/article/S0163-4453(08)00292-2/abstract)
If we look at this article “Influenza in the Hospital: Droplet or Airborne?” It seems that the difference between Droplet and Airborne is based on the 5 micrometer particle diameter cutoff point.
- Large Droplet = greater than 5 micrometers
- Airborne = less than 5 micrometers
If we then look at this article “Flu spreads via airborne droplets” we learn that the flu virus apparently is trapped in water droplets that are usually less than 5 micrometers on average, so the illness is considered to be “airborne”. Hand washing would do nothing for the common Flu, since handwashing only removes the large sized droplets but not get the smaller airborne particles.
To further validate this point, If you refer to this study (http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/3/353.full), it shows that the definition on what constitutes an “airborne” virus is based on the size of the microscopic parts, the AED, which is the diameter of the particles.
Also from the same study, “…At present, 3 major means of transmission of infectious organisms are generally recognized and form the basis of current recommendations for infection control. These differing sojourns and the survival of particles in aerosols have been better elucidated recently by new technology and help explain their capricious nature as effective vectors of infectious agents. of prime importance are the size of the particle, usually described as the particle’s aerodynamic equivalent diameter (AED), and its settling velocity. Particles of large AED settle quickly and, thus, are hazards primarily to those in close vicinity to an infected person. On the other hand, small particles are likely to remain airborne and destined for further spread. For example, particles with AEDs of 100 have settling times of 6.7 s (seconds), compared with 18.5 h (hours) for particles with an AED of 1”
So the smaller the particle, the more time it will stay up in the air, since heavier particle will fall down on the ground due to gravity instead of get picked up by a draft of wind. What we need to do is scour through the PubMed database to find the AED (Particle diameter) of the ebolavirus zaire (scientific name) or the common flu virus, Influenza A.
Here was the first idea I had. – The Marburg Virus incident was like a precursor event which happened years before any of these nationally televised incidents, back in the 1960s in some town in Germany. The Marburg Virus was the first appearance of the Ebola virus, being very similar. Since they are similar in physiological function, we can assume that they would have similar mass, body shape, and form.
If you refer to the Wikipedia article on the virus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marburg_virus, it says the following… “In general, the median particle length of marburg viruses ranges from 795–828 nm (in contrast to ebolavirions, whose median particle length was measured to be 974–1,086 nm” Source is http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0168170295000801.
I am not sure yet what the term “ebolavirions” mean, but if it means the individual virus unit, measured at around 1 micrometer each, then does it mean that the Ebola’s AED is also 1 AED? which would mean that it can stay in the air for up to 18 hours, which would definitely put it in the category of being “Airborne”.
Sure, we could say that the individual virus units, are likely would be clumped together, so maybe the AED of the virus might be much larger than we believe, but do they really clump together?
2nd Idea – Another way is if we can just compare the size of the influenza virus particle to the ebola virus particle, and if they are about the same size, then we will find out whether Ebola virus is airborne or not. The recent articles that have come out in recent years showed the Influenza A is airborne since the droplets that contain the virus is usually less than 5 micrometers in diameter.
From this John’s Hopkins’s Medical School’s Course PDF (http://ocw.jhsph.edu/courses/PrinciplesIndustrialHygiene/PDFs/Lecture4.pdf) , for the exact definition of AED, “The Aerodynamic Equivalent Diameter (AED) of a particle is the diameter of a unit density sphere that would have the identical settling velocity as the particle”
It seems to calculate for AED, you have to take the particle, and use a droplet of water as the actual reference point. As it says in page 15 of the PDF, “…Referenced to spherical drop of water with identical settling velocity” – What we are actually calculating for when we are calculating the AED is to get the diameter for the droplet of water which would be falling at the same speed/velocity as this particle. So a micrometer diameter of lead (Pb) would have a truly large AED, since the drag force would do nearly nothing to slow it down as it is dropping and it has a high density. The ebolavirions may be 1 micrometer on average in size, but we have to account for the density, surface properties, drag force, and slip factor to get the “Settling Velocity” to be correct.
What I can say is that almost all microscopic living organic compounds are made from polymers, proteins, and RNA (collagen or amino acids), which are elastic, flexible, and have a lower density (specific gravity) than any type of sand/dust/solid particle, which would drop to the ground. It might be that the AED would be 1 magnitude larger (10X) than the actual diameter, but that would still make the AED around 10-20. If it is around that value, then the virus only reached the upper nasopharyngeal area, and not the tracheobronchial area, which is the lower respiratory area. (http://ocw.jhsph.edu/courses/PrinciplesIndustrialHygiene/PDFs/Lecture4.pdf) However, that is also a bad thing, since it would mean that coughing would be a very easy way to transmit what is in the upper tract area.
Based on that conjecture, if the medical definition of Influenza says it is technically a type of virus that can be transmitted through airborne pathways, then the Ebola virus must also based on medical technicality also be defined to be a type which can also be carried through airborne transmission, via microscopic water droplets, which is what causes the mist in saunas and water vaporizers. To validate this idea, we can just compare the size/diameter of the Ebola to the Influenza virus.
How can a virus spread so effectively among any local tribe/community if the natural automatic reaction among humans when there is a local outbreak is to stay indoors, and avoid contact with other humans in the area?
It can’t only be from human contact, and if we rule out it being airborne, as the CDC has claimed, then is it through the water. Maybe the low level of sanitation in Sierra Leone means that the entire village or area would be sharing/drinking from the same water source, but that would not explain why the doctors and helpers who treat the patients would develop them, since these are Western trained physicians. They would be drinking from bottles who were imported from other countries to make sure that the water supply is not contaminated.
Could it be that the virus is being transmitted through the skin surface, from sweat? Possible, but the medical staff is supposed to keep those gloves on at all times.
I personally hope that someone would be able to prove me wrong on all these main points, because I am just an amateur level researcher. If I am wrong, then this virus would be much less scary. If I am right though, god help us all.
You can refer to Nova’s Documentary on Ebola which is the source of half of the information that I present here