Can you get Ebola on a plane?



First Flights of Virgin America - LAX to SFO[] – Ever since a Liberian man got on a plane and traveled to the United States with the Ebola virus incubating in his body, there has been a lot of confusion about the risk of contracting the disease during travel.

So here’s a refresher on how you can and can’t get Ebola on a plane (or, for that matter, anywhere else):

Here are ways you could get Ebola on a plane:

1) You can get the Ebola virus if you have “direct contact” with the bodily fluids of a sick person, including blood, saliva, breast milk, stool, sweat, semen, tears, vomit, and urine. “Direct contact” means these fluids need to get into your broken skin (such as a wound) or touch your mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes, vagina).

2) So you could get Ebola on a plane by kissing or sharing food with someone showing symptoms of Ebola. You could get it if that symptomatic person happens to bleed or vomit on you during flight, and those viral fluids hit your mouth or eyes. You could also get it if you happen to be seated next to a sick individual, who is sweating profusely, and you touch that virulent sweat to your face. At least this last scenario is unlikely, however. One of the Ebola discoverers, Peter Piot, said, “I wouldn’t be worried to sit next to someone with Ebola virus on the Tube as long as they don’t vomit on you or something. This is an infection that requires very close contact.”

3) You can get Ebola through sex with an Ebola patient. So you could get Ebola on a plane if you join the Mile High Club with an Ebola-infected individual. The virus has been able to live in semen up to 82 days after a patient became symptomatic, which means sexual transmission — even with someone who has survived the disease for months — is possible.

4) You can get Ebola through contact with an infected surface. Though Ebola is easily killed with disinfectants like bleach, if it isn’t caught, it can live outside the body on, say, an arm rest or table. In bodily fluids, like blood, the virus can survive for several days. So if someone with infectious Ebola gets his or her diseased bodily fluids on a surface that you touch — an airplane seat, for example — and then you put your hands in your mouth and eyes, you could get Ebola on an airplane.

5) This is a very unlikely situation, but: you can get the virus by eating wild animals infected with Ebola or coming into contact with their bodily fluids — on a plane. The fruit bat is believed to be the animal reservoir for Ebola, and when it’s prepared for a meal or eaten raw, people get sick. So you could get Ebola in flight by bringing some under-cooked bat meat onto the aircraft and having it for supper.

The bottom line: Ebola is difficult, but not impossible, to catch even in confined spaces like planes

Ebola isn’t easy to transmit. The scenarios under which Ebola spreads are very specific. As the World Health Organization — which does not recommend travel bans — put it, “On the small chance that someone on the plane is sick with Ebola, the likelihood of other passengers and crew having contact with their body fluids is even smaller.” They also point out that people who are sick with Ebola “are so unwell that they cannot travel.”

Ebola doesn’t spread quickly, either. An Ebola victim usually only infects one or two other people. Compare that with HIV, which creates four secondary infections, or measles with 17. []



  1. I cannot allow this statement to pass with out saying Ebola is much more likely and easily spread than HIV. Infection with HIV occurs by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk. Where as Ebola can be transferred by a lot of means:- sweat, tears, clothing, coughing and it can survive on a surface for hours. So who ever has made this statement need to get their facts right and stop playing down this matter.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.