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Ebola Virus and Pets


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Ebola Virus and pets are topics on your mind, and here are only a pawful I received over the past few days for my Tribune Content Agency newspaper column. Updates regarding Ebola and animals from the American Veterinary Medical Association, click HERE. 

Q: Can dogs and cats get the Ebola virus? If the answer is no, as I believe it is, why did they kill that dog from Spain? — S.H., Chicago, IL

Q: I’m worried about a full-out Ebola epidemic eventually coming to America; it’s inevitable. And since so many people in this country live with pets, what will happen to them? — J.K., Lubbock, TX

Q: Will this be how it happens in America: When a family member is diagnosed with Ebola, pets will be killed and the rest of the family quarantined? I’m not sure as cases (of Ebola) mount that this is a viable plan. What is the plan for animals? — T.A., Louisville, KY

Q: Yes, there was Ebola here, and a dog was euthanized because people didn’t want to it spread. That is a very sad thing – but the U.S. wouldn’t do anything different. P. M., Madrid, Span

A: The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is working side by side with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various public health officials and agencies regarding the concerns expressed here about Ebola and animals — from the pets who share our beds to food-producing animals.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, told me, “Like you, we’ve received many inquiries; certainly the public is concerned. We’re working to create a specific protocol, though there remain many unknowns.”

DeHaven continues, “What’s challenging is that we don’t know a lot about how Ebola behaves in various species. We do believe dogs can get Ebola. Dogs appear to mount an immune response so they don’t get sick. The big question then is if they don’t get sick from the virus, are they capable of spreading the virus to people or other animals? These are questions that we just don’t have answers to.”

Personally, rather than euthanizing the dog belonging to the Spanish victim of Ebola (earlier In October), I think it might have been more beneficial to human medicine and obviously for the dog’s family to quarantine the animal.

After a necropsy (animal autopsy) is conducted, there’s nothing more to be learned from a dead animal. A living dog may have offered clues. For example, if physicians and veterinarians can learn why dogs don’t get sick from Ebola, this knowledge could be the key to creating more effective drugs and a vaccine for people. Also, had that dog been allowed to live, more might have been discovered regarding virus transmission from animals to people.

A Dallas, TX, county judge took a completely different route from the judge in Spain who ordered the dog there be euthanized. Instead, Dallas Ebola-stricken health care worker Nina Pham’s dog — a King Charles Spaniel named Bentley — has been moved to an undisclosed location and is under the care of Dallas Animal Services. The dog will observed, studies, and to the best of the caretakers’ ability, spoiled. Pham’s family has spoken about how much her dog means to her.

It turns out that animals have definitely contributed to the spread of the virus, which has killed 3,500 people in this latest outbreak in West Africa. Fruit bats have been shown to infect great apes and jungle antelopes, he explained. When people in the area hunt and kill the antelope for food, humans become infected from eating the meat of sick animals.  As for the apes, it’s no surprise that they can get Ebola, since we share so much of our genetics with them.

So far, dogs and pigs seem to be the only domesticated animals that can be infected by Ebola. A 2013 study found that infected pigs could transmit the Ebola virus to other pigs and macaques (monkeys), though they couldn’t determine if there was any transfer to humans. No word, so far, regarding cats.

DeHaven warns regarding the bigger picture, “Let’s keep this all in perspective. In the U.S., human cases remain very isolated, and there have been no pets identified with Ebola.”

Teresa Romero Ramos, 44, of Spain became the first person infected outside of West Africa after caring for a Spanish priest who died of Ebola last month. Her husband, Javier Limon, fought to keep their dog alive, which the they’ve accomplished.  Officials in Madrid secured a court order to put down the dog. Javier’s plea to saved the dog. While animal welfare agencies around the world listened to Limon, and even protected when it was announced the dog would be destroyed; the Spanish court system did not listen. The dog was hastily euthanized .

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