Concerns were raised Thursday that the New York City doctor Craig Spencer, MD, who has been diagnosed with Ebola, had been to a Brooklyn bowling alley, had ridden the subway, and been inside an Uber taxi.
So, can you get Ebola from bowling balls or subway poles, or Uber doorhandles for that matter?
The short—and accurate—answer is no, and that’s based on what scientists know after decades of studying Ebola. Spencer was not symptomatic at the time, according to reports, which means he was not contagious at the time.
But, you may ask again, shouldn’t people who rode on the same train, in the same taxi or who touched the same bowling balls as Spencer, worry a little?
The research that exists says, again, no. The virus only survives inside bodily fluid of an infected person—meaning their blood, sweat, vomit or feces—that then comes into contact with an open sore or the mucus membranes of another person.
Data suggests the virus can, in theory, survive on surfaces if it’s inside a liquid. But the only confirmed case of a person getting Ebola from an object or material that can carry infection was during an Ebola outbreak more than a decade ago in Gulu, Uganda, when a patient got the disease by sleeping with a blanket that had been used by an Ebola patient. Based on what we know about transmission of the virus, that blanket must have had an infected person’s wet bodily fluids on it.
A study from 2007 by researchers at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine sampled 31 objects and surfaces that were not visibly bloody—they looked at bed frames, stethoscopes, etc—inside an isolation ward that treated Ebola patients. All specimens tested negative for the virus, suggesting the risk of transmission from surfaces was extremely low.
Read next: How Ready Is New York City for Ebola?
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