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Ebola: Humans, Animals and Nina Pham’s Dog Bentley

Nina Pham and her dog Bentley

by Tracey Khan

 

Nina Pham was one of several hospital workers taking care of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. She will always be the first person to contract Ebola within the United States.  Her dog will also be known as the first canine on U.S. soil quarantined because of it.

Pham’s dog, Bentley, was quarantined at an undisclosed location a few days after Pham was diagnosed with the illness. Unlike Bentley, Excalibur, the dog of the Spanish nurse who also came down with Ebola, was euthanized. There has not been a clear understanding as to why one dog is kept alive and the other was not.

Seemingly, the only visible difference is that the two dogs were in two different hemispheres.  Both were owned by nurses who were infected with the Ebola virus. So exactly what is the affect of Ebola on dogs? Cats?

How Ebola is Spread

We are told that the Ebola virus is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person and that the carrier must show symptoms to spread the disease.  According to the CDC, a person can become infected with Ebola under the following circumstances:

  1. Direct contact of broken skin (cuts, laceration, etc.), bodily fluids (urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) or mucous membranes (i.e., nose, eyes, mouth).
  2. Contaminated objects.

The third circumstance under which Ebola can spread is by animals.

Animals and Ebola

According to its report on Ebola and pets, the CDC states that very few species of mammals can contract the Ebola virus and spread the disease. Those animals that can become infected include bats, monkeys and apes. Monkeys and apes are few and far between in the U.S. and most of us have been warned from a young age to avoid contact with bats, living or dead.  We are surrounded, however, by our pets and here is where things get murky concerning animals and Ebola.

According to the CDC, as recently as October 13, 2014 in their article, “Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets,” there are “no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals.” The CDC article goes on to explain that “dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop disease.” As for cats, again no real evidence but it is believed cats may be immune. We must realize, however, that these statements by the CDC regarding animals and Ebola are prefaced with “at this time” and “there is limited evidence.” The CDC has little evidence on Ebola’s affect on animals

The limited evidence available concerning Ebola is surprising, given that the disease was first discovered in 1976. Still, it is a virus and as a virus, Ebola is subject to change, to mutation, and still a mystery, hence, some of these explanations about the virus may be over simplified.

So if we are to continue a simple, safe examination of Ebola, one that keeps us guarded and protected from the disease, then we must acknowledge the danger that the unknowns about this disease present. How it is transmitted today is not necessarily how it will be transmitted tomorrow and tomorrow is not necessarily twenty-four hours away.

According to Carl Zimmer’s article in the New York Times, scientists minimize the risk of a mutation of the Ebola virus into a super virus.  Nonetheless, mutation is a thing viruses can do.

Mutations are not within the control of doctors or the public.  What is within our control is understanding how to minimize the risk of becoming  infected with Ebola, however unlikely that is in the United States, and thus  ease the minds of many who may be alarmed unnecessarily.

This may be the reason that Excalibur was euthanized in Spain.

So why then was Pham’s dog put in quarantine and not also euthanized? In an interview, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says because the family asked. Will doctors or scientists use this quarantine to learn more about how dogs are affected by the virus? Dr. Eleanor Green, Dean of Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine says no, that care of Pham’s dog is only “to take care of the person’s pet,” not to do research.

There are so many gray areas surrounding Ebola, both in humans and in animals, that officials must make certain that Nina Pham’s dog is definitely not a threat to anyone’s health, now or in the future.

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16. October 2014 by admin
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