I’m sure that you are aware that Ebola Virus has finally made it into the U.S. We have been expecting it to escape from Africa for a long time. In today’s global village it’s extremely easy for biological agents to spread from source areas to the entire planet in a short period of time given the ease of human travel. In some regards, it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken so long for Ebola to begin its spread. This is a credit to containment procedures that were in place before it began its spread in Africa. What’s surprising is how, given this long period before beginning an epidemic, our government and health care system still does not seem to have been completely and adequately prepared. This is much more alarming than the arrival of the disease itself.
Viruses and other infectious diseases are spread from animal to animal (remember humans are animals too) through either direct contact or indirect contact. Some diseases can be carried and spread without making the host sick. Animals that carry and spread disease are known as vectors. Inanimate objects that can carry and spread disease are known as fomites. The humans which were infected with Ebola in Africa and carried it to the U.S. are the vectors for this disease. It’s not yet clear whether non-human animals can serve as vectors although it’s likely. You most likely have some experience with a vector borne disease common in our area – Lyme Disease. Several different animals serve as vectors in its transmission; some are necessary for the organism’s development. Ebola doesn’t seem to need any intermediate vectors or hosts and transmission appears to be through direct contact with infected body fluids. Which leads us to the big question:
“Can animals be infected with, carry and transmit Ebola Virus?”
The Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association are closely monitoring the situation in an attempt to learn more about this. It is thought that Ebola virus emerged from non-human primates and or bats in Africa so we know they can be infected. There is a study indicating both infection and the presence of antibodies in dogs in Africa in the epidemic area. Because of poor and differing sanitation techniques, these dogs may have had direct contact with contaminated tissues, possibly even ingesting portions of infected patients. This scenario would not happen in our country.
Currently, there is no evidence that dogs, cats or other companion animals can be infected and spread the disease to other animals and people. Animals that have been in contact with infected individuals are being monitored and tested closely. While an Ebola patient in Spain’s dog was euthanized out of precaution, the dog belonging to the nurse infected in Texas is in quarantine and being monitored for any disease to help answer this question. At this time we don’t really know the answer to the question. We do know that primates and bats can be infected. The medical and veterinary professions currently don’t feel this is likely in our pets and are actively investigating this issue.
So don’t panic. The media is over-hyping this situation as is customary. Many more people die from the flu in this country (30,000!) every year then are likely to develop Ebola during this epidemic. Rest assured that our profession is continuing its vigilance in containing this infection and monitoring other infectious disease threats. Orange County is home to one of only a few USDA animal quarantine sites in the U.S. adjacent to Stewart Airport. We have highly trained disease containment specialists already in place in our area should Ebola or any other infectious disease appear here. We’re better prepared here than many areas of the country. You don’t have to worry. But stay informed, cautious and take any precautions that may be advised. I’ll continue to monitor developments as this epidemic develops and will keep you informed. Stay safe with Pets Power. You can find the CDC’s statement on Ebola Risk with Pets on this link: http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360/2014/10/14/4fd95878-3d91-4501-b5d0-3e8c855d13bc/Ebola%20handoutAJFV2.pdf