LONDON: The Ebola virus raging through West Africa is mutating rapidly as it tears a deadly path through cities, towns and villages, but the genetic changes are for now not giving it the ability to spread more easily.
Concern that the virus could gain capability to transmit through the air – creating a nightmare scenario of the disease being able to spread like a flu pandemic, killing millions – was fuelled by a top infectious disease expert in the United States.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an opinion article he believed the risk of airborne Ebola is real, and warned: “Until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic.”
Yet many other virus and infectious disease specialists say that while the prospect of an airborne Ebola virus is not impossible, it is extremely remote.
“This is way down on the list of possible futures for Ebola and in all probability will never happen,” said Ian Jones, a virologist at Britain’s University of Reading.
Ebola is contagious, but spreads via direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, such as their blood, faeces or vomit. The virus has infected 5,357 people in West Africa this year, killing 2,630 of them, in the worst Ebola epidemic the world has seen.