Ebola anxiety spread rapidly on social media Wednesday when inaccurate articles and tweets claimed that University of Minnesota infectious disease experts had determined the deadly virus has become airborne — a claim quickly shot down by the U.
A Twitter user with the name @UnivMinnNews, which uses the U logo but is not an official university account, spread the claim — citing an article in the alternative news site Inquisitr. That story cited a commentary posted on the website of the U’s Center for Infectious Disease Control and Policy (CIDRAP).
The published commentary, however, doesn’t make that claim, U officials pointed out. It only states that “people should understand the potential for a virus to become airborne.” And while it was posted on the CIDRAP website, it was written by an unaffiliated researcher from Chicago.
“CIDRAP is not saying [Ebola] is airborne,” spokeswoman Caroline Marin said Wednesday afternoon. “There is always the possibility that diseases can mutate.”
The false claims spread rapidly on social media, and seemed to stoke fears already heightened by the discovery that a second nurse in Texas became infected at a hospital that treated the first U.S.-diagnosed case of Ebola.
Ebola spreads through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood and saliva — unlike seasonal influenza, which can be airborne. The current Ebola outbreak is centered in west Africa, where more than 8,000 people have suffered infections and 4,000 have died. CIDRAP’s director, Michael Osterholm, said last week that he doubts there will be widespread transmission of Ebola in the U.S., or cases in Minnesota.