Facts about Ebola Virus and Dogs

In Spain, the dog of a nurse infected with the Ebola virus was euthanized. The Spanish authorities feared the dog, Excalibur, might represent a source of infection for people. However, under similar circumstances in the US, the dog belonging to a Texas nurse was treated differently. Rather than being euthanized this dog was put under house quarantine for close monitoring.

Given the serious nature of Ebola, these actions appear inconsistent and confusing. If dogs can transmit this deadly virus to people then the implications are worrying. But which country acted correctly: Spain or the US? To help you judge, here are the facts as they are currently known about dogs’ susceptibility to the Ebola virus.

Studying Ebola

Until recently outbreaks of Ebola occurred sporadically in remote areas of Africa. Poor access to distant jungle villages meant it is difficult to gather scientific information about exactly which animals carry and excrete the Ebola virus. However, it is known that primates catch Ebola, and the bodies of monkey or gorilla victims were a common source of infection for people.

In an outbreak in Gabon, 2001-2002, it was found that none of the usual sources of infection had triggered this cluster of cases. Searching for the answer, scientists wondered if the villagers’ dogs might carry infection and decided to study them. These dogs scavenged in the jungle and so were highly likely to have come into contact with infected primate carcasses.

Dogs in Regions Where There is Ebola

Scientists took blood samples from two groups of apparently healthy dogs: the first from the village affected by Ebola and the second from a village free from infection. The aim was to find evidence that the dogs had been exposed to the Ebola virus. The results were surprising.

In the outbreak village, 27.2% of the dogs showed the antibodies in their blood that meant they had been exposed to Ebola virus. The surprise was that in the healthy village, 22.4% of dogs also tested positive. The researchers concluded that dogs exposed to the Ebola virus fight off the infection and do not become ill.

So, Yes, Dogs Can Catch Ebola … But …

However, in one village people were sick and in the other they were healthy. Having ruled out all other possible sources of infection, researchers concluded it was entirely possible that dogs exposed to the Ebola virus could excrete it for an unknown period of time. However, dogs do not appear to be highly infectious to people.

Rather than answer questions, this study raised yet more queries such as at what point do dogs excrete the Ebola virus and for how long.

Current Thinking About Dogs and Ebola

The current thinking of world experts in this field is that dogs can catch Ebola but don’t become ill or show symptoms. Experts suspect infected dogs shed Ebola virus for a limited time before their immune system fights off and kills the virus. At some point during this time the dog may pose a potential infection risk to people. Unfortunately, no one knows at what stage in the infectious process that virus shedding occurs.

Finding Answers

To find the answer scientists need to monitor an infected dog for the presence of viral particles in his body fluids. Only by studying live cases will the answers be found. In conclusion, it seems sensible to quarantine dogs belonging to Ebola victims. Only by studying these dogs and testing to see if they shed Ebola virus and for how long, will an answer be found as to how to handle dogs in contact with this frightening infection.

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