Can pets get sick from Ebola? Can they pass the virus to us? What should happen to the pets of infected people?
These questions came to the forefront this week when concerns were raised about what to do with the dog of an Ebola-infected nurse in Texas. While the dog has shown no signs of being infected, it is currently in quarantine as officials monitor its health. Earlier in the month, officials in Spain opted to euthanize a dog that may have been exposed to Ebola from an infected owner.
Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), said his organization is working with a number of veterinary and public health agencies and experts to develop protocols that veterinarians and other health officials can use to help guide their decisions on the handling and care of pets that may have been exposed to Ebola.
"There are lots of factors to consider, such as the type of animal and level of exposure," DeHaven said. "We want to make sure we create comprehensive, flexible protocols so veterinarians and health officials in all types of situations can use them to make the best decisions based on the evidence."
DeHaven said that there have been no reports of dogs or cats getting sick from Ebola, or of pets passing the virus to people or other animals, "but we are still taking precautions just in case."
He added, "It's time to be cautious, but no time for panic."
The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since that time, there have been sporadic outbreaks in Central Africa. Earlier this year, however, saw the start of the largest recorded outbreak of Ebola, this time in Western Africa. So far, three people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
Ebola is known to infect humans and non-human primates. Fruit bats, which don’t appear to be made ill from Ebola, may be a reservoir for the virus, passing it on directly or indirectly to humans and primates. While fruit bats in Africa can play a part in the spread of Ebola, there is no evidence that bats in North America can harbor the virus, nor is there any reason to believe they have been exposed to Ebola. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says such a situation is unlikely.
Symptoms of Ebola infection can occur anywhere from two to 21 days after infection and can include fever, headache, vomiting, and muscle pain. Ebola is a deadly disease, so if you believe you, someone you know, or your pet has been exposed to the Ebola virus, contact a physician or veterinarian immediately.