Dogs, Dallas and Ebola

by Susi on October 21, 2014

in Animal Rights, dog, Dogs, Ebola

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My house is pulsating with activity this week as we prepare for an event that’s been on the calendar for a year: The first wedding in the family in over 30 years.

We’ve foreseen wondering what to pack for a black tie wedding held out of state. What we didn’t anticipate was speculating as to whether or not we should also pack chlorine bleach wipes and surgical masks.

The wedding is in Dallas.

As of yesterday, there have been no new cases of Ebola for five days, and that’s fabulous news; a disease with no sure-fire cure scares anyone.  Still, Ebola has fascinated me ever since I read Laurie’s Garret’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Coming Plague” back in 1994.  For most people, however, it was Richard Preston’s book, “The Hot Zone,” published the same year that put the disease on the map.

I couldn’t seem to learn enough about it. My reading list for the next decade was heavy on books dealing with diseases, but especially the hemorrhagic viruses. What’s not to be fascinated-while-horrified by a disease that causes half its victims to bleed out of every orifice? I wish now I’d retained a fraction of what I’d read. Then again, I didn’t think I’d need to. Ebola was an exotic disease on the other side of the world that would never come here. Global travel, of course, makes any communicable disease a possibility, but the probability of Ebola coming to the United States, let alone to a city within 800 miles of me, always seemed at the high end of remote.

What was I thinking?

Needless to say, there’s been a good deal of discussion about this disease, and no small amount of conflicting information. There are those who believe that the risk of being exposed to Ebola is minimal even in a city where there’s been an outbreak. For my part, I’ve read too much to support that view and remain disquieted by how much we still don’t know about it. We don’t know why humans, gorillas and chimps are so vulnerable to the virus when mice, guinea pigs and bats don’t have any problems at all. We don’t know why it emerges when it does. We don’t know if the 50% of victims who bleed internally are more likely to spread the virus than the 50% who don’t. We don’t know why the usual methods for containing the virus have scaled to an epidemic of this size. We don’t know why there are wildly varying fatality rates that vary among Ebola strains and among outbreaks. We don’t know whether some people spread the disease at different rates than others. We still don’t know what the original “reservoir” (or natural host) was for the disease, nor do we know how people first became exposed to the virus (though it’s a pretty good bet that the disease jumped from infected monkeys to hunters who butchered them for meat).

We don’t even know how Nancy Writebol, the second nurse to contract the disease in Africa, got sick. She said in an interview: “I don’t know how I became infected and how I contracted it… Nobody is really sure, least of all me. I never felt like I was unsafe and I never felt like I walked into a situation where I was being exposed. I was on the low-risk side of things. I never was in the crisis or the Ebola center. I was always on the outside.”

Nancy Writebol

Nancy Writebol

As a writer in the dog niche, I wonder about the implications of the disease to canines, but it seems to me that there’s no less conflicting information about the disease in dogs than in humans.

Antibodies have been detected in the blood of African dogs suggesting that they’ve survived infections, but the virus itself has not been found in them. The country of Gabon has had several Ebola outbreaks, and in 2005, French scientists tested 337 dogs for antibodies. Nine to twenty-five percent of them showed antibodies, a sign that they were infected or had been exposed to the virus. Many were village strays that lived on what they caught, and most of that were scraps of infected meat that hunters threw to them. The dogs weren’t known to get ill, but were “asymptomatic,” meaning that while they didn’t develop symptoms, they could spread the disease through licking, biting, and bodily fluids during the early phase of their infection. Once the virus cleared from the dog, it was no longer contagious.

But Dr. Greg Nelson of Central Veterinary Associates, in Valley Stream, New York says, “…Dogs produce antibodies to Ebola. The virus lives inside and multiplies within the dog and produces a response to eliminate the virus. So, this is evidence that the virus lives and replicates inside the dog [but] it is not known if the virus replicates in such numbers and finds a way to escape the dog and enter a human host.”

So which is it?

Some diseases — including polio and typhoid — have silent human carriers who never get sick but pass fatal infections to others. Could the same be true in dogs? Could dogs be a vector for transmitting Ebola from humans to wildlife, where it could, theoretically, establish a permanent American reservoir? Do we even know how long a dog carrying the virus might remain infectious, or if it even IS infectious?

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press there have been no documented cases of Ebola being spread to people from dogs, but that “no one really knows” if such a transmission is possible. Purdue University biology professor, David Sanders, concurs. He said, “The problem is we haven’t really studied the progress of Ebola in dogs.”

All this leads me to a little King Charles Spaniel named “Bentley.”

One year old Bentley is owned by Nina Pham, a nurse who contracted Ebola last week after taking care of Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Bentley is presently in the care of Dallas Animal Services with the assistance of a Texas A&M University emergency veterinary team. He has a bed and toys. He also has armed guards and a Hazmat bucket for waste. According to Sana Syed, a city spokeswoman, Bentley has been “wagging his tail and eating dinner.” As I write, Bentley is entering the testing phase of his 21-day quarantine; his waste will be monitored and tested three times within the remainder of this period which is expected to expire in the beginning of November.

Bentley being collected at his home

 

Meanwhile, pictures of Bentley have been continuously sent to Pham to remind her that her dog is doing well thus far. “As our brave health care worker told us, this dog is a significant part of her life, and we vowed to her family we would do everything in our power to care for her beloved pet,” Dallas mayor, Mike Rawlings said in a statement. “Pham reportedly called Dallas Animal Services last week to thank them for taking care of Bentley while he’s under quarantine.

Bentley being taken into quarantine

Bentley being taken into quarantine

It comes as no surprise to me (or any dog lover) that placing Pham’s dog into quarantine is believed to help with her recovery.  This is a vastly different approach than what happened in Spain when “Excaliber,” the dog belonging to an infected nurse’s aide was euthanized after officials in Madrid got a court order to do so.

I’m pulling for Bentley at least as much as his owner is, if not more. If blood tests reveal that this dog has contracted the Ebola virus, I’m concerned about the reaction of society to man’s best friend as a “spreader of disease.”

What if dogs can spread Ebola? And if not this disease, how about the next one? Bear witness to wild conjecture. Animal rights groups, having allegedly been on the side of cats and dogs for thirty years, suddenly express “deep concern” about the safety of their human owners. They shrug their shoulders as they express regret that mass euthanasia is in the interest of public safety. Never mind that its own agenda always has been the eradication of pet ownership.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has noted that concern about animals can have a broader impact on human health. “We’ve seen this in disasters before, people not wanting to leave their homes because they couldn’t bring their animals to a shelter,” he said. “The fear among health care workers and CDC officials and others is that if people are afraid that their dogs are going to be killed, they might not come forward if they’re starting to show some symptoms.”

What does this portend with regards to our friends, relatives and neighbors if it’s determined that dogs can spread Ebola or some equally horrific future disease? Would my terrified neighbors take matters into their own hands?

I can no more fathom relinquishing my dogs to Animal Control than I can being held down as frightened neighbors kill my dogs in front of my eyes. What would I do? What would you do?

Cats were killed en masse in the middle of the 14th century during the time of the Black Death. We’re so much more enlightened now, you say?

A UK newspaper reported this past week that Balinese officers gave an estimated 300,000 dogs, most of them healthy, a lethal injection as part of a 2009 rabies prevention bylaw (trust me, you don’t ever want to see the heartbreaking pictures). Before the Winter Olympics in 2014, the city of Sochi hired a private company to kill as many stray dogs as possible, and that had more to do with image than disease. The same happened during the Olympics in Korea. Mass killings of dogs happen in the public square all the time throughout the world, but outside of animal shelters, we in the US have been spared this horror. Would Ebola be the game changer?

Let’s hope we never find out. And let’s pull for Bentley.

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