Since I’ve spent most of my day answering questions about Ebola, here are some of the common Q&As.
Can dogs be infected with Ebola?
Yes, but what that really means is unclear. Most of the available information comes from a study in Gabon where they tested dogs in a community during an Ebola outbreak. They found antibodies against the virus in a large percentage of dogs. That’s not really surprising, as these dogs were apparently scavenging bodies of people and animals that had died from Ebola. So, it’s not hard to see how they’d be exposed.
Having antibodies against the virus means the virus got into their body and the body mounted an immune response. That doesn’t mean the dogs got sick or that they were shedding the virus. In that study, they could not find evidence of the virus in the dogs’ bodies. That doesn’t mean it was never there at relevant levels, but they couldn’t find it at the time.
Can dogs infect people with Ebola?
That’s the big question. Dogs can get infected (see above), but IF the virus can reproduce in a dogs and IF the virus is then present in adequate levels in blood and other secretions, THEN there would be the potential for dogs to be a source of human infection. That’s a lot of IFs for which we don’t have good information.
What do I think?
I think the risk of transmission of Ebola from dogs is very low. There’s currently no evidence that dogs have an important (or any) role in transmission of the virus in natural situations. It’s not zero risk (there aren’t many "it can never happen" situations with emerging diseases), and considering the how deadly the disease is the measures that can be used to mitigate that risk (small though it may be) are important.
So, how can we reduce the risk with an exposed dog?
Basically, treat the dog the same way you would treat a person with Ebola exposure or infection. An exposed person is quarantined and monitored for signs of disease. People are not infectious until they are sick. A sick person is handled with strict infection control precautions because of the potential that the virus is present in various body secretions.
With a dog, it’s probably warranted to err on the side of caution and treat an exposed dog like an infected person. Why? Because we don’t know that dogs are not infectious until they’re sick. So, it might be best to have them isolated and handled with strict biosafety practices, rather than just watch them at home (particularly given the potential for the dog to escape the house).
Is that degree of containment practical?
Maybe. It depends on the facility, personnel and motivation. Last week, I sketched out a containment plan for our facility in case we had a suspect case. It was done knowing there’s virtually no chance it would be needed, but it was a good mental exercise to consider what to do. The more you think about it, the more complex it can get. Containment is possible for a good facility with reliable personnel and a clear containment plan. However, you can’t just drop the dog off at any kennel, shelter or veterinary clinic and say "we’ll be back for it in 21 days." You need the right facility and personnel, and access to that will be variable.