Ebola used to be a thing that happened in Africa and no one in the Western world paid it much attention. When this outbreak started and the WHO was telling the world to pay attention and lend as much help as they could, no one paid much attention. Members of Doctors Without Borders were begging for more PPE gear, medicine, and money to help stem the tide of infection and no one listened. Africans were dying by the hundreds and their bodies piling up in the streets and no one paid attention.
Eventually a man in Dallas Tx is confirmed as being infected and suddenly everyone pays attention. Still, no one wants to help Africa. They want to stop flights originating from Western Africa from landing in our country. Calls for deportation and quarantine of those from Africa. The news is constantly reporting that people with “Ebola like symptoms” are showing up in hospitals. Still no major action.
Finally a dog in Spain is euthanized because its owner was infected with Ebola and the world EXPLODES! Petitions to save the dog’s life, money to give it a new home, accusations thrown at the Spanish government, street protests, social media uproar. Why won’t anyone do anything? Why isn’t anyone helping?
This next paragraph is my opinion. We will be moving on to scientific fact shortly so be patient. Personally, I was disgusted that cries for help were unanswered until an animal was involved. Babies are dying in their cribs, entire families are being wiped out. Little children are waking up to find their mom and dad are dead and now they have no one to support them. We in the Western world didn’t care because it’s “over there, in Africa”. When a man in America is infected we still don’t really care, we just worry that perhaps we will be infected and that makes us afraid. But throw an animal into the mix and suddenly we demand action. Why is it that we seem to treasure animals over human life? Why is that Spanish dog more important than a Liberian baby boy? I am a veterinarian and I love animals. I do my best to ensure they are properly taken care of and I try my hardest to ensure those that abuse them are punished. But people still come first. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.
Now then. Facts. What is Ebola? It is a Filovirus which means a virus that looks like a filament or thread. It is from central Africa and first appeared in the late 1970’s. No one is really certain where the virus comes from but it is believed that fruit bats act as a reservoir. People become infected when they hunt and prepare the bats for food. There are other Filoviruses that cause diseases in humans but they are not as virulent as Ebola.
The symptoms of infection are, initially, just like that of the flu. Fever, body aches, lethargy, sore throat. Some people bleed from their orifices and gums but the victims shown spewing blood out of every pore in the movies is actually not too common. Many people will bleed into their GI tract and they can have vomiting and diarrhea. The cause of death is eventually organ failure. The reported incubation period of 21 days is really not very common and is mainly used for public safety. Anyone that does not show signs 21 days post exposure is likely not infected. The more common time is 7-10 days.
The virus is spread via infected body fluid making its way into mucus membranes or small cuts on the skin. The virus is found in blood, tears, sweat, semen, breast milk, feces, sputum, etc. They say the virus is not airborne and this is true but the public understanding of airborne is not the same as the scientific one. If someone coughs blood into your face you could be infected. If someone sneezes from across the room, you are likely going to be ok. The virus has been shown to be transmissible in large droplets but these droplets cannot travel very far.
There is no cure for Ebola at this point in time. Right now there are some experimental anti-viral drugs that are being used but I don’t think the people that survived can truly attribute that to the drugs. They may have survived anyway. Once you survive Ebola it is thought that you are immune from future infection.
We do not know enough about the virus to truly say if it can spread from animals. One somewhat frightening study showed it can be passed from pigs to monkeys without any kind of apparent contact. Dogs are known to be asymptomatic carriers but we don’t know if it can be passed along.
So we have a nearly 100% fatal virus that causes you to bleed internally and suffer organ failure. It is very virulent and easily spread (even the tiniest hole in PPE gear has allowed humans to become infected) and we have no cure. Hospitals easily become overwhelmed and there simply aren’t enough quarantine rooms available. The first people to become infected are medical personnel, what would we do if 60% of them are ill themselves? To make matters worse some people are avoiding quarantine! The family in Dallas was actually caught leaving their apartment and had to have police stationed outside to keep them in. Can you imagine if they had been infective and gone to the mall? Yes the infrastructure of the West is better than Africa’s but with so many factors at play, one stupid person could cause an epidemic.
That is why that dog was euthanized in Spain. It is very sad and I feel for the family. But we just don’t know enough about the virus to say it was safe. Could it have been quarantined, sure. How long is a dog infective? We don’t know. There are just too many unknowns at this stage of the game and we have to protect people. Do I think this is going to become a real life zombie apocalypse? No. As long as we continue to be cautious and unfortunately that means making unpopular decisions to protect everyone. So I understand the frustration and rage but please try and understand what is going on. If you want to do something raise money for the family’s medical bills. Or set up a fund in their dog’s name (it was Excalibur) that will provide money for those that cannot afford veterinary care. Those are more helpful and loving than all of the vitriol and hate we are spewing over the loss of a dog.