11/03/2014 02:51 pm ET

You're Probably Not Going To Get Ebola From A Sneeze

WASHINGTON -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would like you to know that you can't get the Ebola virus from a sneeze.

Some people have seized on info that had been posted to the agency's website as evidence that it's possible for Ebola to be sneezed from one person to another. Since last week, the agency has been editing text on its website to clarify that the disease is not "airborne" and that coughs and sneezes don't transmit the disease.

Over the weekend, the agency again modified an Ebola infographic by removing an image of a germ-covered doorknob and editing text about droplets of bodily fluids. Such fluids are Ebola's vehicle of choice, but because droplets cannot remain suspended in the air, it would be incorrect to describe Ebola as an airborne disease.

The new document says more prominently that Ebola is not airborne. The previous version had noted that droplets, which are emitted via cough or sneeze, can travel "less than about 6 feet from a source patient." The new version simply says there is "no evidence that Ebola is spread by coughing or sneezing."

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is also a practicing ophthalmologist, raised the issue during a CNN interview that aired Sunday.

"The CDC acknowledged [Ebola] can be transmitted through a sneeze," Paul said. "So I think even they are now admitting it's contagious."

Despite Paul's assertion, the CDC maintains that Ebola cannot be transmitted by sneezing. The agency insists it has only changed information on its website to emphasize that Ebola doesn't float around in the air, unlike some respiratory illnesses that do spread via coughing and sneezing.

"This particular infographic was updated to ensure people understand that Ebola is not an airborne virus like the flu and there is no evidence that Ebola is spread by coughing or sneezing," a CDC official said Monday.

Health experts and the Obama administration have said that because Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a sick Ebola patient, strict measures like travel bans and forced quarantines are unnecessary. Several governors -- most notably Chris Christie (R-N.J.) -- have nevertheless tried to implement such policies.

A truly airborne illness, health experts say, travels via small particles known as aerosols that can remain suspended in the air for hours after someone coughs or sneezes.

"Coughing and sneezing can produce such aerosols, but can also produce larger particles, called droplets, which can travel a few feet before being pulled to the ground by gravity," Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Huffington Post in an email.

"Transmission via large droplets of this kind is technically considered direct contact, not airborne," Reingold wrote. "There is no evidence that Ebola is transmitted via aerosols/airborne transmission."

Reingold said that while it may be theoretically possible for a flying Ebola droplet to hit somebody in the eye and infect that person, he was not aware of any cases of the virus being transmitted that way.

While nearly 5,000 people have died from Ebola in West Africa, as of Monday it has been 19 days since the last confirmed case of anyone catching Ebola in the U.S.



Ebola virus myth-busting