Pets and Ebola: What’s the Risk?
Yesterday it was announced that Dallas nurse Nina Pham’s beloved dog Bentley tested negative for the Ebola virus. Bentley had been placed in quarantine when Nina contracted Ebola. This good news is tempered by the earlier story of a Spanish nurse’s dog being euthanized when she contracted Ebola, despite strong objections from her husband and the general public.
With Ebola so much in the news lately, what exactly are the risks to pets from the Ebola virus? The “Ask Well” blog in The New York Times recently addressed this issue. They explain that Ebola is primarily an animal disease, most likely originating in the fruit bat. Humans and primates are highly susceptible to the Ebola virus. Ebola has also been found in some wild African animals such as antelopes and rodents. Experiments on pigs, guinea pigs, horses and goats show that these animals may also contract a mild form of the disease.
But what about dogs and cats? Wild cats in Africa are not known to get Ebola, suggesting that all cats may be immune to the disease. Dogs that come into contact with humans can get infected. While the virus has not been found in their blood, antibodies have been detected, so it is likely they can survive infections.
Studies of previous Ebola outbreaks indicate that the greatest number of dogs testing positive for antibodies were found in villages that had human deaths, and also were known to feed dogs scraps of bush meat. Although no dogs became sick, they most likely contracted the virus through contact with the bush meat or human vomit.
It is unknown whether or not dogs can pass on the virus to humans or other animals. No animals in North America have been found to have Ebola, including bats, but it is unclear if they can be carriers. It is speculated that dogs might act as vectors, transmitting Ebola from humans to other animals. Also currently unknown is how long a dog remains infectious, and how long it should remain in quarantine.
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