Ebola is scary. And it's a frightening to think about touching something that was previously contaminated with the virus. After all, a drop of Ebola-laden blood can remain contagious outside the body with the virus surviving for days or even weeks, depending on the environment [source: Poon]. Cooler temperatures and humidity will keep it active for longer.
But if there's 100 percent certainty that a surface has been decontaminated with hospital grade disinfectants like bleach, then you can't get the virus by coming in contact with that surface. And if the surface has never even seen the likes of Ebola, then there's definitely no danger. So there's no need to fear goods from Africa that are shipped abroad.
As with all infectious diseases, it's important to think about good hygiene practices. Ebola and more common diseases like the flu can all be kept at bay by simply taking good care to wash your hands.
Author's Note: 5 Ways You Still Can't Get Ebola
I first wrote about Ebola for HowStuffWorks near the start of the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, and then again months later for this piece. During that time, I went from digging in the library for journal articles about the virus to simply typing an "e" in Google and getting a million hits about Ebola. Also during that time, we went from books and journal articles saying that treatments for Ebola were ineffective and not worth the pursuit for pharmaceutical companies to experimental testing of drugs and fast-tracking of clinical trials. Astounding what the threat of something like Ebola in your backyard can do to make people snap into action and sad that the many lives lost to the disease before this outbreak weren't enough to make much headway in treatment options.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets." Oct. 13, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/qas-pets.html
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. "Facts About Bushmeat and Ebola." September 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/Ebola/pdf/bushmeat-and-Ebola.pdf
- Poon, Linda. "How Do You Catch Ebola: By Air, Sweat or Water?" NPR. Sept. 12, 2014. (Oct. 22, 2014) http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/09/12/346114454/how-do-you-catch-Ebola-by-air-sweat-or-water
- World Science Festival. "Everything You Need to Know About Ebola." Oct. 21, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2014/10/everything-need-know-Ebola/
- Zimmer, Carl. "As Ebola Spreads, So Have Several Fallacies." The New York Times. Oct. 23, 2014. (Oct. 29, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/us/fallacies-are-spreading-as-readily-as-the-virus-has.html?_r=0
Vector-borne diseases are those spread by biting insects. HowStuffWorks looks at the alarming rise in infections.