We have seen the term "airborne" used loosely to indicate a microorganism that can live in the air. Let me distinguish this concept from the infection control point of view. Microorganisms that travel in the air are categorized by droplet size. Only, droplet nuclei are referred to as "airborne" microorganisms. These microscopic droplets can travel much longer distances than other droplet particles and invade entire airway systems. A common example is tuberculosis. Ebola is categorized as a large droplet and is spread by direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes (such as the eyes, nose or mouth) with infected body fluids. In other words, Ebola is not spread through the air by an infected patient just talking or breathing. However, if you are within 3 feet of someone with Ebola and they sneeze or cough in your face, you would be at risk for getting sick as well.
On TV, and the internet, we are observing various types of PPE used in caring for the known Ebola patients. This makes it confusing, especially if you are a healthcare provider on the front lines. What is the correct PPE required? Unfortunately, nursing and medicine is not black and white. Infection prevention requires you to assess the element of risk involved in transmission. The element of risk in transmitting Ebola is not only the level of contact involved with the patient, but also dependent on their symptoms. The higher the risk indicates the more PPE and "barriers" staff need to provide to protect themselves. A staff member traveling with an ebola patient, by ambulance or airplane, has a much higher level of contact with the patient then walking into the sick patient's hospital room to change an IV bag. Also, providing care to an ebola patient with uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea has a much higher risk, than if they only have fever, due to the large amounts of contact with infectious body fluids.
Ebola is a scary virus and we need to take this crisis seriously. It is everyone's responsibility to become informed accurately to avoid panic.