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Can pets get Ebola?

OHMYGOSSIP — Among the many things most people probably never imagined when they first heard about the Ebola outbreak was whether the virus might be a concern for pets.

But that changed lately when Spanish authorities euthanized the dog of a nursing assistant who caught the disease from a missionary she treated at a hospital there. Many people wondered whether such a drastic step was really necessary.

Then this week (16.oct), we found out that Nina Pham’s 1-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bentley, would be quarantined by the City of Dallas while its owner, the critical care nurse who caught Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, fights the disease.

Pham’s family made a personal appeal to city officials to spare the dog, which is being cared for at an undisclosed location, according to The Dallas Morning News.

So why do pets seem to be the latest innocent victims in the battle to contain the widening Ebola outbreak?

For answers, we turned to Scott Weese, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He specializes in the study of infections that impact both animals and humans.

Q:  What’s the worry with pets and Ebola?

A:  One of the issues with Ebola is that it’s just not well understood.  The assumption is that the virus is sustained in the wild because it lives in animals like bats, but what other animals can be infected really isn’t all that clear.

When it comes to companion animals, there’s been very little investigation of it. So in the absence of evidence, we have to take precautions. But the absence of evidence can also lead to paranoia, too, because we can never say there is no risk.

Q: Is there any evidence dogs can be infected?

A: What we know with dogs really is limited to one study, and applying that study to the developed world is difficult.

That study looked at dogs in a community in Gabon that had Ebola in 2001 and 2002. They found that about 30% of dogs had antibodies to the virus. But these dogs were living in an area where there was a lot of disease and a lot of contact. (According to the CDC, it is presumed animals could contract Ebola through exposure to infected blood or feces.)  There were obviously infrastructure and hygiene issues. The dogs were known to have been scavenging on animals that might have died of Ebola. So the fact that the dogs would be exposed to the virus isn’t surprising.

Having antibodies in their blood just means that they’ve been exposed and the immune system fought it off. It doesn’t tell us whether the virus was replicating in the body and most importantly, whether the virus was being shed–or passed in urine, feces or blood.

And that’s the big question. We know there are a lot of viruses, like West Nile Virus in people or horses or other species, that individuals can be infected with, but they aren’t infectious.

So we don’t know with that study whether dogs were just getting infected and getting sick, whether they had subclinical infection (an infection without symptoms), where they had the virus replicating but it wasn’t obvious and if that was the case whether they were producing enough virus that they could infect someone.

Q: If pets could infect people, how would that happen?

A: The route of infection is probably similar to what it would be between people.  If I’ve had close direct contact with a person, that’s exposure. If I have close direct contact—the same type of contact–with a dog, a cat, or a ferret, that should be exposure, too. We just don’t know the implications of it.

There’s never been a documented case of a dog having clinical Ebola or a dog infecting a human.

Q: What about cats?
A: There’s no research, as far as I know.  For the North American situation in particular, we have to get beyond just dogs because there are as many cats as there are dogs and the contact people have with their cats can be pretty close, too.

Q: Do you think it’s reasonable to quarantine the pet of an infected person?

A: I think so. It comes down to risk and practicality. We do know that dogs could be a relevant source; we just don’t have enough data. It means we have to be careful.

The Spanish response was pretty aggressive, whether it was out of fear, or whether it was “If I kill it, I don’t have to think about it.”

The other issue is if you’re going to quarantine, you have to figure out how to do it, and you have to figure out how to do it right. That takes some work and some dedication. You have to have protocols. Maybe they just didn’t have the resources to do that.

Q: Is there any evidence that diseases that can pass between animals and people—so called zoonotic disease–are on the rise?

A: Probably not on the rise, but I think they’re being recognized more. We know the majority of emerging diseases are zoonotic.  You’ve got things like SARS, which originated in bats. MERS, which probably also came from bats, is a zoonotic disease. Ebola is a zoonotic disease.

I’m not sure the diseases are becoming more common, but there are certain things that are allowing transmission to happen — a lot more close contact with areas where there wasn’t a lot of human-animal contact. There’s incursion into wild areas (humans moving into previously undeveloped areas). There’s climate change, which is shifting the ranges of some diseases.

We’re certainly seeing changes in patterns. In Canada, for example, we’re seeing more tick-borne diseases. We rarely saw ticks a few years ago and now we’re seeing a lot of them, and we have establishment of Lyme disease in some parts of Ontario.

Anything that changes what human and animal populations do, increases the intersection of those and lets new things move back and forth.


Author:  Brenda Goodman
Source: WebMD Health News



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