If Ebola arrives in the U.S., stopping it may rely on controversial tools

The Ebola virus can only be spread by direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva) of infected people. Infection can also occur if the broken skin of a healthy person comes into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids (such as soiled clothing).

Moreover, patients usually only become contagious – and can spread the virus — once they start contracting symptoms. Prior to the onset of symptoms, it’s typically harder to spread the virus. Yet the onset of symptoms is usually quite severe. So it’s easy to recognize that a person is sick. Moreover, stricken individuals are less likely to travel about – and spread the virus — given their debilitated condition.

All of these factors make control of the infection feasible. If isolated cases emerge in the U.S., our public health apparatus should be able to readily contain its spread.