Don’t listen to George Will on Fox News for information on Ebola

October 24, 2014

Ebola

politifact-photos-Tanden_and_Will

George Will on Fox News stated, “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” He also said Ebola could survive on a dry surface “for a number of days.” (Photo and quotation from Fox News on October 19, 2014)

When asked to cite his source, George Will mentioned a University of Minnesota study on Ebola.

George Will is wrong. First of all, the CDC can quickly refute George Will’s claim about Ebola’s ability to survive outside the body:

From the CDC website: (Source)

“Ebola is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach). Ebola on dry surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops, can survive for several hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.”

Moving on to his more troubling claim, George Will is unfortunately completely distorting the University of Minnesota study. If he had read it more closely, he would have noticed that this is only referring to people in the last stages of the disease with severe diarrhea and vomiting, not a person in the early stages of the disease.

The study: COMMENTARY: Health workers need optimal respiratory protection for Ebola

The following in response to media distortions: Response to statements falsely attributed to CIDRAP regarding Ebola transmission

University of Michigan researcher Adam Lauring pointed out that Ebola is not a respiratory disease – coughing and sneezing are not symptoms of Ebola like they are with influenza. (Source)

Harvard University’s Stephen Gire responded with the following:

“If you were on a plane, and someone sneezed, you wouldn’t be at risk of getting infected unless you were sneezed on directly within close quarters, and that cough or sneeze transferred droplets into mucosal membranes. This is very unlikely scenario, but not out of the realm of possibility. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been sneezed on directly, and only one of those times was by someone I didn’t know.”

Gire also stated, “It’s important to note that this form of transmission does not constitute ‘airborne,'”

Here are some other studies to compare with Will’s statement.

  • The Oxford Journal of Infectious Diseases investigates which bodily fluids can transmit Ebola through direct contact (Source)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Ebola can be contracted through direct physical contact with blood, skin, or other bodily fluids of an infected patient (Source)
    • Unlike respiratory illnesses like measles or chickenpox, which can be transmitted by virus particles that remain suspended in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes, Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with body fluids of a person who has symptoms of Ebola disease. Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease. (Source)
  • The World Health Organization gives the following: (Source)
    • Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
    • Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.

It is important to take caution when dealing with disease outbreaks, but fear-mongering never helps us move forward.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

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9 Comments on “Don’t listen to George Will on Fox News for information on Ebola”

  1. auntynini Says:

    Whew…I’m sure glad that you and your loved ones would be willing to sit next to the ebola-exposed guy that happened to sneeze and cough in your direction!

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    • jslachman381 Says:

      Can you please elaborate? I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say.

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      Reply

      • auntynini Says:

        It’s not intended to be cryptic.

        Based on your post, you are comfortable with the current consensus that the risk of infectivity via aerosolized droplets from a person exposed to Ebola is so low as to be a non-issue for you. Therefore, you would not change your behavior, and you in fact, would sit next to an Ebola exposed individual who was sneezing and coughing in your general space. That’s pretty much what your post implies.

        You are more confident than I on the veracity of the working consensus, which is based thus far on limited observational data, as far as I can tell.

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      • jslachman381 Says:

        Perhaps you could reread the post for clarification.

        People who are at risk of spreading it through the air are already at the severest stages of the disease and have severe diarrhea and vomiting, which creates the airborne particles. These people would already be in isolation wards, and it is unlikely that you or I would encounter them in daily life.

        The article says nothing about being comfortable sitting next to someone with Ebola who was coughing and sneezing.

        Also, the article mentions that coughing and sneezing are not symptoms of Ebola, since it is not a respiratory disease.

        Also, I would suggest some caution with terminology. Spreading through droplets from sneezing does not mean that something is airborne. That is a form of direct contact.

        If you have a few minutes, please take a look at some of the links that are provided throughout the article.

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      • auntynini Says:

        I never used the term airborne. I never stated that sneezing or coughing were symptoms of Ebola. I never implied that Ebola is a respiratory disease.

        Perhaps, read my response again. My terminology is accurate in the context of my post.

        Here is an example: If there is a viral burden in saliva and a person (at an early stage) with Ebola sneezes (not as an Ebola symptom, but just sneezes,) and the mucous of the sneezed droplets “aerosolized” and then transmitted and interacted with an open wound or a mucous membrane (suppose you were yawning at the same time the guy sneezed; or the sneeze droplet landed on your finger and you scratched your eye, etc….)

        The concern I have is the issue of transmission and of infectivity and the current working consensus. That’s all.

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      • jslachman381 Says:

        I still fail to understand how this writing leads to your original conclusion – “I’m sure glad that you and your loved ones would be willing to sit next to the ebola-exposed guy that happened to sneeze and cough in your direction!”

        The article said that it could be potentially dangerous if an infected person sneezed directly on you.

        Quoting from the article:
        “If you were on a plane, and someone sneezed, you wouldn’t be at risk of getting infected unless you were sneezed on directly within close quarters, and that cough or sneeze transferred droplets into mucosal membranes. This is very unlikely scenario, but not out of the realm of possibility. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been sneezed on directly, and only one of those times was by someone I didn’t know.”

        Like

      • auntynini Says:

        There is alot of coughing, sneezing, and hacking going on closed public spaces and I don’t even mean “directly, overtly on you.”
        Have you watched some of those slow motion, hi-def studies/visuals on sneezes? They are pretty impressive – the droplet burden, the force, and the distance – that in real time, cannot even be perceived!

        How many feet is comfortable enough for you? I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that mucous from a sneeze could enter open wounds or mucous membranes – directly or indirectly (meaning from a tabletop or from one part of your body like a finger to your eyes or nose.) That’s why the even the peripheral healthcare workers are now wearing full PPE.

        I think that it’s probably not a bad idea to be more cautious than not and I think everyone has their own threshold for caution, which we all must respect.

        Anyway, thanks for the discussion!

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      • auntynini Says:

        you might like this talk…

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      • jslachman381 Says:

        Thanks. I’ll check it out.

        Like

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