Updated information for Washington veterinarians on pets and Ebola
Washington receives international travelers daily, and some arrive here from the West African countries experiencing widespread transmission of Ebola virus – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and most recently Mali. The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues to receive media attention and rightly so. This unprecedented outbreak has raised many questions, including some about how the disease affects the animal population, particularly, the risk to household pets and their potential role in the spread of Ebola.
At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of transmitting Ebola virus to people or animals. This includes the areas in Africa where Ebola is endemic. There is no evidence of active infection in dogs, and to date, Ebola virus has not been isolated from dogs. Antibodies to the virus have been detected in dogs known to have high-risk exposure to the virus in nature. However, clinical disease has never been reported in dogs. This suggests that dogs exposed to high quantities of the virus can become infected, but that the infection is likely transient and non-productive (non-viremic). It is not known whether an animal’s body, feet, or fur can act as a carrier (fomite) to transmit Ebola to people or other animals. In the current epidemic and in previous Ebola outbreaks, exposure to dogs is not a risk factor for human infections. However, to minimize any potential risk of transmission between people and pets, it is recommended to keep all animals away from blood or body fluids of a person who may have Ebola.
Any person who has traveled to Washington from a West African country experiencing widespread Ebola transmission will be monitored by their local public health agency for 21 days from the last date of possible exposure. People are assessed for exposure risk and based on an assigned risk category undergo either active monitoring or direct active monitoring. The main difference being restrictions on travel on public transportation and exclusion from public places. People under active monitoring have low exposure risk, while those under direct active monitoring have higher exposure risk.
On Nov. 10, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Ebola Companion Animal Response Plan Working Group, which includes a variety of experts from multiple agencies and organizations, released interim guidance for public health officials about how to manage pets of persons under monitoring and how to manage pets of persons who become sick with Ebola. People under active monitoring (low exposure risk) may keep their pets in their home and continue normal interaction with animals. Persons under direct active monitoring (higher exposure risk) should avoid contact with animals, including their own pets, to prevent the need for quarantine of a pet in case the person gets sick. If a person gets sick with Ebola and has had contact with a dog or cat, the pet must be assessed for exposure and may be placed in mandatory quarantine for at least 21 days following their last known exposure to the person with Ebola. Quarantine would require a large amount of resources and would likely be stressful on the pet and owner. Public health officials are making an effort to ask all persons being monitored about the type and number of pets in their home, and about other activities that involve contact with animals, including pets and livestock (e.g. occupations, hobbies, farm or zoo visits, or work with service animals). Animals other than dogs and cats are not covered by the AVMA guidance and will be handled on a case-by-case basis. There is currently no evidence that Ebola virus can infect non-mammals kept as pets, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish.
If an asymptomatic person under monitoring by a public health agency chooses or is asked to have their pet relocated during their 21 day monitoring period, veterinarians could potentially be asked to board a pet at their facility. This is a safe and viable option for the pet and poses no risk for contamination or exposure to Ebola virus for the facility, personnel, or other pets being treated or boarded. This is because pets in homes of asymptomatic persons have not been exposed to Ebola. An infected person can only spread the virus once he or she becomes symptomatic. Additionally, a person under active monitoring (low exposure risk) has no restrictions on travel or being in public places. So if the person needs to seek veterinary services for their pet during the 21 day monitoring period, this also poses no risk. A person under direct active monitoring (higher exposure risk) should not travel or be in public places during the 21 day monitoring period and should not bring a pet in for veterinary services (hopefully the pet has been relocated out of the home).
If you have questions or concerns, call Dr. Ron Wohrle at the state Department of Health at (360) 236-3369 or call your local health department. We will share new information regarding pets and Ebola as it becomes available.
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