Ebola not nearly as contagious as other deadly viruses

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Doctors say the chances of Ebola spreading here in the U.S. are extremely low. This virus is not nearly as transmittable as others that also kill.

You're on a commercial airliner. Couldn't that person in the next seat give you Ebola? Doctors say a person can't spread the virus until they have symptoms, and that person is more likely to be in bed than on a flight with you. That's unlike flu and measles which can be spread before a person has symptoms.

In addition, Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids through broken skin or membranes such as the nose or mouth, or from contact with surfaces that have those fluids on them.

"But not through casual contact. So if you're on a plane next to somebody who already has developed Ebola infection, even if they're symptomatic, you're very unlikely to become infected," said Dr. Joel McKinsey, an infectious disease specialist at Research Medical Center.

Dr. McKinsey said you're much more likely to be infected with airborne viruses such as flu or measles. Those viruses are shed in great quantities through coughs or sneezes that can travel three feet. One study last year found flu can even travel up to six feet.

"So the rate of infection with influenza and measles is much, much higher than with Ebola," said Dr. McKinsey.

But people -- Africans, at least -- are more likely to die with Ebola. There's a 60 percent death rate with this outbreak, but it is under a thousand deaths so far. Compare that to the 122,000 people who die worldwide of measles each year, and at least 250,000 who die from flu.

Dr. McKinsey says to focus on getting vaccinated against those viruses rather than fretting over Ebola.

"The risk to Americans is really minimal," he said.

As contagious diseases go, Ebola is still rare. That's why Dr. McKinsey said it wouldn't be practical, yet, to have an Ebola vaccine for the general population.