Might the ebola virus change to transmit while airborne? It might. The researchers don’t know. It has happened before.
In September, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, writing in the New York Times, said experts who believe that Ebola could become airborne are loathed to discuss their concerns in public, for fear of whipping up hysteria.
Discussing the possible future course of the current outbreak, he said: 'The second possibility is one that virologists are loath to discuss openly but are definitely considering in private: that an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air.'
Dr Osterholm warns viruses similar to Ebola are notorious for replicating and reinventing themselves.
It means the virus that first broke out in Guinea in February may be very different to the one now invading other parts of West Africa.
Pointing to the example of the H1N1 influenza virus that saw bird flu sweep the globe in 2009, Dr Osterholm said: 'If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola.'
Dr Osterholm said public health officials, while discussing the possibility in private, are reluctant to air their concerns.
'They don't want to be accused of screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater - as I'm sure some will accuse me of doing.
'But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic.'