AVMA releases Ebola resources for veterinarians and pet owners
There was a time for most Westerners when the Ebola virus was as exotic and remote as the African continent where the deadly hemorrhagic disease it causes periodically flares up.
||(Courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC)
All that changed this September when the virus, responsible for well over 4,000 human deaths in an ongoing outbreak in West Africa, was identified first in Spain and a short time later in the United States.
“The Ebola outbreak that is ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe, acute public health emergency seen in modern times,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, declared Nov. 3. “It has many unprecedented dimensions, including its heavy toll on front-line domestic medical staff.”
At press time in early November, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who contracted Ebola in his home country before traveling to Texas, is the only person to have died of the virus in the United States.
Although the Ebola outbreak is being managed as a public health problem, the virus is a zoonotic pathogen, stoking fears that animals exposed to Ebola, including pets and livestock, could pass along the virus to people. Government officials in Spain cited public health concerns in October to persuade a court to order the euthanasia of a dog belonging to a nurse who contracted Ebola from a patient being treated at a Madrid hospital.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association responded, noting that, while it is possible for dogs to carry the Ebola virus, particularly in endemic areas where the dogs have access to infected animal carcasses, house pets in developed countries are another matter entirely. “Sadly, the dog in question was not tested for the virus, and it is our view that available technology should allow for testing and quarantine rather than automatic euthanasia,” the WSAVA stated.
When Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, tested positive for the virus after treating Duncan, two Texas A&M University veterinarians cared for her dog, Bentley, for 21 days. Bentley tested negative for the virus and was reunited with Pham after her release from the hospital.
Most experts agree that the relative risk of human and animal exposure to Ebola in the United States is extremely low, given the current situation involving a small number of isolated human cases and no known animal cases.
Nevertheless, after questions surfaced about whether the Ebola virus could infect animals in the U.S. and whether infected animals could spread the organism to humans, the AVMA began collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture, and other entities and experts to develop information for AVMA members and the public.
On Nov. 5, the AVMA released two documents related to pets and Ebola exclusively for AVMA members to serve as resources in the interim while waiting on official guidance from authorities. The Checklist for Practicing Veterinarians is designed to help practitioners determine how to proceed if they are confronted with a patient or client who has potentially been exposed to the Ebola virus. It is based on the AVMA’s understanding of the currently available science and will be updated as needed.
The Pet Owner’s Guide to Ebola Exposure is a simple flowchart veterinarians can give to clients to provide basic guidance about the virus. The information is based on the Interim Guidance for Public Health Officials on Pets of Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola) Contacts developed by the AVMA and others in the Ebola working groups.
Both resources are available only to AVMA members and can be found along with other Ebola resources at www.avma.org/Ebola. Resources on that page, including FAQs, will continue to be updated with the latest information as it becomes available.