Is Ebola transmissible between pets and people?
Conclusion: It appears that a person could get ebola from her cat or dog but please read on..
Is ebola a zoonotic disease? If it is, it may have a serious impact on the welfare of domestic cats anywhere. I ask because you have probably read that the dog companion, Excalibur, of the Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola was put down and incinerated as he was considered a health risk. Excalibur was destroyed despite a petition of 350,000 people around the world begging the authorities to reconsider their decision.
The nurse, Teresa Romero, 44, was the first person outside of Africa to get the killer disease. As I understand it, about 50% of people who get ebola die from it. There is no cure.
There was no attempt to place the dog into quarantine to see if ebola developed in him thereby confirming a need to euthanise. It was all done in a panic and with a disregard for animal welfare and the views of many others. Other people say the decision to kill the dog was sensible.
Madrid’s regional government obtained a court order to kill the dog. They say that available scientific information cannot rule out the risk of contagion meaning the transmission of ebola from dogs to people.
To date there have been no human ebola infections linked to dogs we are told but how do people know for sure? Dogs are “thought” to contract ebola without symptoms (asymptomatic). If this is true, quarantine would not be beneficial because a dog could just be a carrier without suffering from the disease him/herself.
During an outbreak of ebola in Gabon in 2001-2, 337 dogs were tested and up to 25% had antibodies to the disease meaning they had been exposed to it and the body had created protection.
Ben Neuman a University of Reading virologist says:
“Unlike most viruses, ebola really gets around. It can infect a wide range of animals including bats, rodents, monkeys, apes and a kind of tiny antelope…”
Therefore, we know ebola can infect animals. We don’t know for absolute certainty if it can be transmitted from animals to people, as far as I know (wrong? Please correct me and see CDC statement below).
We don’t know if people can give it to animals but is seems possible or probable. That gap in knowledge needs to be filled I believe. However, if there is a possibility, and what Ben Neuman says indicates that there is, ebola may be zoonotic and therefore it could be transmitted from dogs and cats to people and vice versa.
In fact CDC (USA agency) states on their website:
….researchers have hypothesized that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal
Chris Kilham writing on Fox news states:
health officials…are certain that it is zoonotic
This is potentially bad news for cats. However, Dee (a regular to PoC) writes in a comment:
According to this week’s Time Magazine, cats are suspected of having immunity to Ebola. This seems to be based on the fact that no cat, even in the wild in Africa, has ever presented with the virus.
We should recognize that the spread of the disease in Sierra Leone is due to a lack of education and poor health care services in that country – a human generated problem in part due to civil war. Also, the international community has been too slow to respond in providing aid on the ground.
There is argument for a lock-down on travel from West Africa to prevent this killer disease spreading to other countries.
Photo credit: NIAID