While Obama Officials Bloviate About Settled 'Science,' DoD Scientists Fear Air Transmission of Ebola

Pretending to be guided by “science” rather than practicing politics in service of their post-American agenda, Obama administration officials persevere in the irresponsible suggestion that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air – i.e., that it requires physical contact with an infected person that results in exposure to bodily fluids. It should go without saying that because viruses mutate, responsible scientists would never claim that the “science” about them is “settled.” But quite apart from the dynamic circumstances, government scientists are obviously concerned about air transmission in the here and now, even as the spin-meisters claim it cannot happen.

Aaron Klein has uncovered a “broad agency announcement” (BAA) from the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), soliciting research proposals to combat Ebola (in connection with the government’s efforts against chemical and biological threats). The BAA is appended to a “Federal Business Opportunities” notice – the notice can be found here, and the BAA is an attachment atop the right column, accessible through the link “HDTRA1-15-EBOLA-BAA”).

At page 7, Section 2.2.4 (“Ebola Characterization”), the Defense Department’s BAA explains that Ebola is “aerostable” and, since other filoviruses infect through “the respiratory route,” it is at least theoretically possible that Ebola could, too. (The CDC elaborates that Ebola is a filovirus.) As the BAA puts it:

 While current science indicates the disease can only be transmitted by contact with contaminated body fluids, it remains unclear if other transmission modes are feasible. Filoviruses are able to infect via the respiratory route and are lethal at very low doses in experimental animal models, however the infectious dose is unknown. There is minimal information on how well filoviruses survive within aerosolized particles, and in certain media like the biofilm of sewage systems.

The BAA goes on to add (my italics): "While current science indicates the disease can only be transmitted by contact with contaminat"Preliminary studies indicate that Ebola is aerostable in an enclosed controlled system in the dark and can survive for long periods in different liquid media and can also be recovered from plastic and glass surfaces at low temperatures for over 3 weeks."

At page 9, section 2.2.6 (“Topic: CBT-02, Rapid Disinfection Processes), the BAA further explains that the Defense Department is thus looking for treatments that could combat deposits of Ebola transmitted “as an aerosol” as well as by the better known means of bodily fluid contact (again, my italics):

The DTRA is seeking innovative technologies for rapid disinfection of interior surfaces with viral contamination. The technology must prove effective against viral contamination either deposited as an aerosol or heavy contaminated combined with body fluids (e.g. blood, vomit, feces)….

To be clear, neither the Defense Department’s assertions nor Mr. Klein’s reporting of them state conclusively that Ebola is transmissible through the air. What they convey is that the science is not settled, that it is unlikely to be settled given the evolving nature of viruses, that the possibility of airborne transmission is far from outlandish, and therefore that the responsible course is to prepare for that possibility until it is proved that the virus cannot be transmitted by air.

Instead, the Obama administration – for which Ebola is being treated as a matter of politics, not science – prefers to roll the dice.