No, not really. Just for the sake of training.

The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa, along with a few "escapes" of the virus into other regions, has brought scrutiny on the potential role of animals (beyond the wildlife reservoirs) in Ebola virus transmission. Concerns have led to development of contingency practices in some regions for handling potentially exposed animals (just in case).

Today, we ran a trial retrieval of an Ebola-exposed dog (played by Merlin) from a household to evaluate and practice our retrieval, transportation and quarantine protocols. Things like this are typically more complex than they seem at first glance, which is one reason to do a dry-run, despite having spent a lot of time developing the protocols and talking through the entire procedure.

How did it go? Pretty well, overall. Merlin’s a pretty good practice-patient since he’s easy to handle. However, the trial run got us thinking about a few things we hadn’t considered, helped identify some little points to improve, and gave us good practice with donning and doffing (i.e. putting on and taking off) personal protective equipment (PPE, one of the most complex and easy-to-screw-up aspects of high-risk patient management).

What are the odds we’ll ever do this for real? Very low. However, it we ever have to, we’ll be very glad we tried it in advance.

With regard to what we’re doing for animals (like this training exercise) and the broader Ebola-management training in human healthcare, one question I’ve been asked a lot is "Isn’t this a complete waste of time and effort?"  It’s very unlikely that the overwhelming majority of healthcare centres in Ontario will encounter a case or Ebola, just like it’s very unlikely we’ll have to manage a potentially exposed pet. However, the time spent isn’t a waste. While Ebola may not make it here, we will continue to encounter emerging diseases. All this training, along with the communication networks and similar behind-the-scenes work that’s going on will better equip us for the next infectious disease challenge. We may not know what’s coming, but the main aspects of response to a lot of infectious diseases are the same.

How’d Merlin do? He didn’t really appreciate waiting around in the crate outside in the cold while we were donning and doffing PPE, and getting ourselves sorted out, but lots of treats were involved so he didn’t seem to mind too much.

Photos: A, B Loading Merlin into a crate and covering it for transport; C Merlin (in his crate) in the back of the transport truck; D Two response team members in full PPE at the quarantine site.