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WHO admits sneezing could transmit Ebola

NEW YORK – In a largely overlooked media advisory email, the World Health Organization admitted there are some circumstances in which the current strain of Ebola in West Africa can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing.

“Theoretically, wet and bigger droplets from a heavily infected individual, who has respiratory symptoms caused by other conditions or who vomits violently, could transmit the virus – over a short distance – to another nearby person,” the United Nations agency said Monday.

“This could happen when virus-laden heavy droplets are directly propelled, by coughing or sneezing (which does not mean airborne transmission) onto the mucus membranes or skin with cuts or abrasions of another person.”

The WHO advisory said saliva and tears “may also carry some risk.”

“However, the studies implicating these additional bodily fluids were extremely limited in sample size and the science is inconclusive. In studies of saliva, the virus was found most frequently in patients at a severe stage of illness.”

Still, WHO insisted the spread of the current Ebola outbreak remains consistent with the theory that the virus is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person showing symptoms of the disease.

“Epidemiological data emerging from the outbreak are not consistent with the pattern of spread seen with airborne viruses, like those that cause measles and chickenpox, or the airborne bacterium that causes tuberculosis,” the organization said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon disclosed Tuesday that U.S. troops in Liberia will have direct physical contact with Ebola victims. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. African Command, said teams of U.S. soldiers will work alongside Liberian troops and will staff mobile medical labs that will test people for Ebola.

The Daily Observer of Monrovia, Liberia, reported Tuesday that eight Liberian soldiers who contracted the Ebola virus have died.

As Congress members press the Obama administration to define the military mission to West Africa, the Fluor Corp., a Texas-based global construction company, has been contracted by the Pentagon to build temporary housing for U.S. troops in Liberia.

WHO warned Tuesday that the spread of Ebola across Europe is “quite unavoidable” after a Spanish nurse became the first person known to have contracted the virus outside Africa and three other people were being monitored in a hospital.