Will I Get Ebola On The Subway? A Breathless Explainer

Illustration for article titled Will I Get Ebola On The Subway? A Breathless Explainer

Ebola is spreading rapidly throughout America, as two nurses who helped a disease-stricken man in Dallas are generally reported to be doing okay and have not infected anyone else. And one doctor in New York has it. Clearly, this is a time for mass panic. You can get Ebola nowhere everywhere, and definitely not on the subway.


WNYC's excellent Transportation Nation blog already answered the question of subway Ebola infection (subway-Ebola? Subola?) in a highly clinical manner. But when it comes to highly contagious and deadly pandemics, would you really want clinical information? Or do you prefer the feeling of fear mixed in with your facts, just to get the blood flowing?

Obviously, the answer is the latter. So here's your Subway-Ebola Explainer.

Will I get Ebola on the Subway?

Lol yes.

Holy crap really? That's terrible!

No, not really. But can you IMAGINE??? That would be awful, right?

Are you sure? There's a lot of nasty things on the subway.

Pretty sure.

How do you know? What if some guy with Ebola coughs on me? Like, right in my mouth?

Coughing isn't really a symptom of Ebola, as WNYC points out, but let's say your "some guy" deliberately coughs on you, with his Ebola, because he's a jerk. Or maybe it's a she? Could be, who knows. Ebola don't discriminate. Anyways, your Ebola guy could cough on you, but you'd really need to be bathing in saliva to catch The Ebola.

I thought Ebola was highly contagious? Legit, you JUST said that.

Well, it is highly contagious, but really only at the worst stage of the disease. You can't catch it from things floating in the air, or from people licking the occasional subway pole you happen to grab.


If I can't catch it from gooey subway poles and people coughing on you, how is it highly contagious? Isn't that how everything spreads?

The staid, stoic medical answer from People Who Know is that the disease is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as fecal matter, vomit, and blood. All normal things on the subway, but you normally know how to avoid the empty car already.


So if it's just stuff that normally ends up in a toilet, how do these doctors keep getting it?

Okay, here's the thing about Ebola that most polite news articles don't explain. When you start getting sick with Ebola, it's not so bad. A little nausea, a little fever, maybe a sore throat. Typical flu stuff. But then it gets really, really bad. When you read that Ebola symptoms include "diarrhea and vomiting," that's like saying the Super Bowl is a "sporting entertainment program."


Yes, technically "diarrhea and vomiting" is the basic definition, but it's so much more than that. A lot more than that. It's really just Hiroshima-levels of explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting, all the way down.

It's like that girl from The Poltergeist, except from both ends.

An Ebola patient will quickly start to produce so much crap and puke, in fact, that of the three facilities designated to treat Ebola in Texas, one was noted for having "the capability of disposing of the 'copious waste' that Ebola cases generate."





Yeah. Those two nurses, and the doctor in Texas, caught Ebola because medical professionals are the ones who are taking care of people at that point. They were basically covered in the very stuff that Ebola thrives in.


A lot of the stuff.

But that still doesn't mean I can't get it on the subway. What if someone is like that when they get on public transit?


Remember that one time you got food poisoning, and you couldn't leave the bathroom if your life depended on it?

It's worse than that. A thousand times worse than that. A million times worse than that. An Ebola patient will not have the sheer willpower, nor the intestinal fortitude, required to swipe a Metrocard at that point, let alone grip a swaying subway pole.


And if they do manage to get on the subway, you probably don't want to be in the same car as the guy covered in poop and puke anyways. Plus the city will just take the car out of service and hose it down with bleach.

What about the blood? I heard something about blood?

Yeah, blood happens, too. Mostly out of the eyes and the mouth and of all the good stuff flowing out both ends. But that's really just at the very end, and not in every case. If they're not getting on the subway anyways from the broken fire hydrants at both ends, I don't think you need to worry about blood.


And mucus, too? I've seen people pick their noses and just go to town on the subway.

Now you're just grossing me out.

I aim to please.


So you're saying I won't get Ebola?

Nope. Not saying that. If you've been bathing in the liquid excrement of the infected, and then touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or really any orifice, you might get Ebola.


But most people don't do that on the subway. Not normally.

I hope.

Photo credit: Shutterstock



Quick question; can I get EBOLA from a Philly cheesesteak?

Edit: Hurry...this is really important!

Edit 2: Nevermind, too late.