While West Africa might seem to be worlds away from Southeastern Massachusetts, the truth is that concerns, worries and fears about the Ebola virus are right here in our own backyard. As the epidemic continues to spread, many Americans have become concerned about how this virus affects animals, including domesticated household pets, livestock and the surrounding wildlife.
While studies currently suggest that the Ebola virus may be found in different types of animals, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the US Department of Agriculture have stated that they do not believe pets are at a significant risk here in the United States.
Investigations have led researchers to believe that the current outbreak may stem from contact with or consumption of an infected fruit bat or a primate. However, this has not yet been proven. In the medical field, this is referred to as a “spillover” event. Once the first human is infected through contact with an infected animal, person-to-person transmission can follow. Previous outbreaks of Ebola around the world were identified as coming from contact with or consumption of infected primates, which are commonly eaten in other countries.
How is Ebola Spread?
Once humans become infected, there are several different ways that viruses can be spread. In the case of Ebola, the virus is spread through direct contact via the eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin through blood or body fluids, including saliva, sweat, vomit, feces, breast milk, urine and semen, as well as objects, such as syringes and needles, that have been contaminated with the virus. The CDC has stated that the Ebola virus cannot be spread via air, water or by food. However, it is important to note that it can be spread by handling the meat of wildlife, such as infected bats or primates.
When it comes to veterinary care in Massachusetts, it is important for pet owners to know that only a few species of mammals have been shown to have the ability to become infected with the Ebola virus and spread it to other mammals. Those mammals include humans, monkeys and apes. There is no evidence that the Ebola virus can be spread through mosquitoes or other insects.
What About Cats and Dogs?
In spite of the situation where the dog that was euthanized in Spain and the dog in Texas that had a veterinary check-up and monitoring when his owner was being treated for the Ebola virus, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or having the ability to spread Ebola to other animals or humans. In fact, even in the areas of Africa where Ebola is being spread by people, there are no reports of infected dogs and cats or of the virus being spread by dogs and cats. So far medical studies have shown very limited evidence that dogs can even become infected with the Ebola virus, but there have been no known cases where they have developed the disease.
The CDC has stated that there is a very low risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people here in the United States, therefore the risk to pets is also very low. While it is always a good idea to bring your pet in for regular veterinary care in Massachusetts, there is nothing to indicate that you need to bring your pet to a Dartmouth emergency vet to demand an Ebola test. A pet would need to come in direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who has the Ebola virus. If you have any questions about risks of viruses or diseases that can crossover from pets to humans, or would like more information about vaccinations and other preventative measures, contact your local Dartmouth vet hospital to share your concerns.
How Are Pets Treated in an Ebola Outbreak?
In the case of the young nurse in Texas who was diagnosed with the Ebola virus, her dog Bentley was given a veterinary check-up and monitored for any signs of infection or illness. There have been no reports of pets transmitting the Ebola virus to other humans, even if they have come in contact with a person who has symptoms of Ebola, so it is unknown whether or not a pet’s paws, fur or body can pick up and spread Ebola. Individuals who have been diagnosed with Ebola are recommended to avoid contact with animals, particularly keeping them away from body fluids or blood.
The CDC recommends that the pet be fully evaluated with regard to any risk associated with exposure to the virus through close contact or exposure to body fluids or blood of a patient diagnosed with the Ebola virus. However, local and state health officials are the ones who ultimately determine how the pet should be handled, what type of testing should be done via a veterinary check-up and the period of time that the pet should be monitored and evaluated for signs or symptoms of the Ebola virus. At this time, there is is no reason for a dog or cat to be tested for the Ebola virus at their local Dartmouth emergency vet or clinic if there was no exposure to a person that was infected with Ebola.
Quality Veterinary Care in Massachusetts
Pet owners who live in Southeastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island can bring their pets to Anchor Animal Hospital for a veterinary check-up or for emergency veterinary services. Our Dartmouth vet hospital has been providing quality veterinary care in Massachusetts since 1975 and has add new equipment and technology to the practice throughout the years to bring the best-possible care to pets in the South Coast area. To schedule an appointment or find out more about our Dartmouth emergency vet services, give us a call at 508-996-3731.