When Dallas nurse Nina Pham, 26, began showing signs of Ebola (she was part of the medical team that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of the disease on U.S. soil last week), she was put in a hospital isolation unit to cut her risk of spreading it to others. After tests confirmed over the weekend that she had the lethal virus, Dallas animal officials put Pham’s dog Bentley, a year-old King Cavalier Spaniel, in an isolation unit of his own.
The pooch was removed from Pham’s apartment by workers decked out in Hazmat suits, then quarantined on a decommissioned Dallas air force base. Reportedly he’ll spend 21 days there—the maximum time it takes the Ebola virus to incubate in humans. He’s living the good life: a vet monitors his health, and he’s fed twice daily. Dallas officials even released snaps of Bentley looking totally adorable (if a little bugged out!).
Going all out in Hazmat gear to isolate a tiny pup raises the question: Can dogs or other pets really pick up and pass on Ebola? Spanish officials who put down the dog of a woman in Spain diagnosed with Ebola seemed to think so. But experts say it’s pretty unlikely. “There’s no evidence that a dog has ever contracted Ebola, let alone passed it to humans,” says Jennifer Lighter Fisher, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The virus is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids and blood of an infected person, so only family members or health care workers of people with Ebola are at risk.” And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had this to say on their website: “At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals.”
With the latest news that a second Dallas health care worker tested positive for Ebola (and yikes, may have infected fellow passengers on a flight she took over the weekend while sick with a fever), it’s reassuring to know that at least our pets are in the clear. “The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low,” states the CDC website. “Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.”