Could Our Pets Infect Us With Ebola?

Just when you thought the Ebola Crisis couldn’t get any worse. It does. Especially, if you are like me and happen to be an animal lover. And I am sure there are plenty of people like me.

Health officials in Texas, must now confront a second dilemma. What should be done with a pet dog, belonging to the Texas hospital nurse who contracted Ebola from the patient she was nursing, who later died from the disease?

Not only did the nurse interact with other people and of course she was completely innocent to the fact that she had become infected. She also interacted with her dog, a King Charles spaniel. Needless to say health authorities have no idea if dogs can catch and spread Ebola in the same way humans can.

Health authorities claim they are trying to find a place where they can monitor the dog, to see if it develops Ebola symptoms. The nurse’s apartment has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. She was admitted to a hospital isolation unit and is reported to be in a stable condition. Texan authorities say her dog will be looked after. But to what extent that statement is a pet lover talking, or simply a deliberate attempt to avoid the torrent of criticism because of what occurred in Spain recently, is anyone’s guess.

Spain was confronted with a similar scenario to Texas. A Spanish nursing assistant also contracted Ebola from a patient. She too had a dog. And while the dog showed no signs of having the virus, Spanish authorities, who were clearly not animal lovers, decided it should be put to sleep. The decision caused a public uproar. Animal rights activists took to the streets to protest the decision in more than 20 cities across Spain. An online petition attracted more than 400 thousand signatures.

I have some sympathy for authorities because this is a really tough call. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola is found in a number of animals like fruit bats, monkeys, apes, chimpanzees and pigs. One of the ways that humans get Ebola in Africa, is by eating bush meat infected with the virus.

A study from 2005, suggests there is a theoretical possibility that dogs can pass the disease on to humans, but nothing is confirmed and the only option for health authorities is to recommend caution.

In 2001, an Ebola outbreak in the African country of Gabon, found traces of Ebola anti-bodies in dogs, which is a sign that they were infected at some point. But where and how they were infected, nobody can answer.

A University Professor in the UK, who is also an Ebola expert, said the wisest move would be to assume that dogs represent a risk to humans but if you want a truthful answer no-one can confirm it because no-one has conducted the necessary research.

Ebola spreads through close body contact with someone infected with the disease. The virus is found in bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, faeces, urine or semen. There has to be an entry point for the infection to be transferred such as having sex, cutting the skin, or touching the mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why health workers wear fully protective suits when they come into contact with an infected patient. The most transmissible fluids are blood, faeces and vomit. But the virus can also be found in the saliva and sweat of patients who are extremely ill with Ebola.

The symptoms include, headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain or unexplained bruising or bleeding.

But does it mean that by coming into contact with dog faeces or secretions from a pet, belonging to an Ebola patient, you will also contract the disease? The answer is no-one knows.

The US Center For Disease Control and Prevention, is at pains to point out that there are no reports of pets becoming sick or playing any kind of role, so far, in the transmission of Ebola to humans. The center is currently working with the American Veterinary Medical Association, and others, to help develop guidelines to cover the US pet population.

Ebola has killed more than four thousand people. The number of cases is currently double that. There is evidence to suggest that Africa could reach more than a million Ebola cases by the end of the year. We need to fight this thing with everything we have got because potentially it threatens the entire world.

But it would be even more tragic and cruel and heartbreaking to discover that dogs and cats have a role to play in its transmission to humans. Clearly, it is one more question we need to answer urgently.

The Ebola Nightmare

I don’t want to sound alarmist but there is a contagion happening in West Africa that should worry the heck out of all of us.

It’s called Ebola. Here’s a bit of useful background.This disease is highly contagious. Victims haemorrhage from just about every orifice. It’s spread through coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. There’s a three week incubation period and no known cure. Health workers wear full biohazard suits which mean they look like they are preparing for a walk in outer space when dealing with its victims.

The United States is starting to take Ebola very seriously. Some say they dragged their heels in getting to this point. I say who cares I’m just glad they did.

President Obama pledged 3000 US military personnel to go to West Africa. Their job will include erecting new treatment and isolation facilities, training health care workers to minimize disease spread and support in communications and transport. The United Nations called it a billion dollar problem.

But it’s not the cost that we should be worried about. It’s Ebola’s capacity to kill people. Twenty-four hundred people have already died since the start of this year. Now health authorities are predicting more than 20 thousand people could be infected by the end of the year. That is not a disease. It is an out of control wildfire. As one doctor described it an out of control wildfire from the pit of hell. They’re talking it up to be a major humanitarian crisis in the countries affected. It is already. The biggest problem they’ve got apart from the rate that it kills people is how to contain it. Right at this moment they’re losing the battle. It’s crippled public health systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They didn’t have much of a public health system to begin with and that’s probably why this disease took hold.

The U.S has already spent $100 million with plans to spend even more. Critics are saying the international community’s delayed response is to blame for allowing Ebola to spread exponentially and in a fashion unparalleled in modern times.

Think runaway freight train destroying everything in its path. And because it’s such a new disease and one we know so little about it’s almost impossible to predict what it might do next. For example could it mutate? Become airborne and start infecting victims when they breathe in the virus? This of course hasn’t happened yet. I pray it doesn’t.

N-I-M-B-Y is how you would sum up the response to this crisis so far. By that I mean Not In My Backyard. The Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Minnesota believes public officials are too afraid to discuss it. He says they don’t want to be accused of the equivalent of shouting fire in a public theatre. But the risk is real and unless and until we take the risk seriously the world won’t be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic. Ebola doesn’t discriminate. The people treating the victims are as much at risk as the people who already have the disease. A drug called ZMapp, claims to have successfully treated Ebola patients but it’s yet to go through all the proper clinical trials. Such is the desperation it was given to people with the disease anyway.

Ignoring Ebola or pretending it could never reach where we live in our big, modern 21st Century cities, would be a big mistake. Borders and geography mean nothing. And unless something is done smartly there is every chance Ebola will reach us given the global nature of how we live. Forget about the threat of the Islamic State to life and civilisation as we know it. We’re staring at the apocalypse. It’s in West Africa.