Bentley, the dog owned by Ebola-stricken Texas nurse Nina Pham, is apparently thriving under quarantine – being fed, cared for and played with by Dallas workers in full protective gear.
In the process, the cute King Charles Spaniel has become a media phenomenon, with Twitter followers monitoring his progress through the city of Dallas feed @100Marilla.
His owner, who cared for the first U.S. Ebola victim at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, was transferred Thursday to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
But medical experts still are considering how to treat pets, as public concern about the Ebola virus explodes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepare pet protocols.
In Spain, the dog belonging to a nurse ill with Ebola was euthanized, causing an outcry among animal lovers.
The U.S. approach has not taken that direction and for now, the attention on the only pet so far apparently exposed to the virus in this country has been to monitor him under the 21-day quarantine established by the CDC for humans.
“He’s doing well. He’s sleeping well. He’s eating well,” said C.C. Gonzalez-Kurz, public information officer for the city of Dallas, which has custody of Bentley.
According to Christine Hoang, a veterinarian who is an assistant director of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “We have no known evidence that dogs will be clinically infected with the Ebola virus.”
She is working with a team of government and health industry officials to develop a protocol for dealing with future situations.
“Veterinary and public health officials should evaluate and take appropriate protections,” she said. In the case of Bentley, “basic bio-security measures are being employed but there is no protocol yet.”
Hoang said that the experts are preparing their recommendations and the protocol could be ready as soon as next week.
It has been a difficult time for the CDC.
“Studies have shown that dogs can have an immune response to Ebola, but there have been no reports of pet dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of passing the disease to other animals or people,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC health communications specialist.
“In a situation where there is a dog or cat in the home of an Ebola patient, CDC recommends public health officials evaluate the animal’s risk of exposure.”
One study tested dogs during the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon, when some of them were observed eating infected dead animals, according to CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “Of the 337 dogs from various towns and villages, 9 to 25 percent showed antibodies to Ebola, a sign they were infected or exposed to the virus,” he said.
Antibodies are created by the body to fight infection but do not indicate that a virus will be transmitted.
Bentley is being cared for at Hensley Field, a former military base in Dallas.
The response from dog lovers has been so great that the city of Dallas has joined forces with a nonprofit, Dallas Companion Animal Project, to create a fund, the Dallas Pet Emergency Transition Services, to help pay for the care of pets affected by emergency events, including Ebola exposure.
In a tweet Thursday, followers learned the latest: #Bentleyupdate! Bentley is settling in, getting used to new routines. The cutie played w/ new toy and snuggled w/ vet.