Dr. Manny: What a dog in Spain is teaching us about Ebola

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to update protocols for preventing the spread of Ebola here in America, they are forgetting to include one key factor -- it seems that pets, can get it too.

On the heels of the news that a Spanish nursing assistant contracted Ebola in Madrid, becoming the first person known to have caught the disease outside the outbreak zone in West Africa, the local government announced plans to euthanize her beloved dog, a mixed-breed named Excalibur.

Teresa Romero was treating a Spanish missionary infected with Ebola and contracted the disease sometime before his death Sept. 25. She began showing symptoms days later, and has been hospitalized in isolation receiving treatment since Monday.

Officials have quarantined three people Romero had possible contact with, including her husband Javier Limon, who was unsuccessful in his campaign to prevent the government from killing the family dog. On Wednesday, the government said the animal was sedated before being euthanized and was then incinerated.

I am extremely disappointed with how the world came to learn that pets, especially dogs, can contract Ebola. And now, millions of pet owners and animal lovers around the world are not only concerned for the virus and their pets, but they are very upset about the Spanish government euthanizing this poor dog.

From a public health perspective, I can understand the government’s motive behind putting the dog down. However, we have been told by health officials that as patients become infected with Ebola, and land on foreign soil -- whether it is American or European -- it is critical to identify the first and second wave of possible contacts the patient has had.

While we have been told that monkeys, bats and a menagerie of animals can spread Ebola, never before have we been told that household pets may also be included in that first and second wave of possible contacts -- and that they, too, run the risk of transmitting the disease.

This glaring omission by health officials is surprising to me, because the data has been around for many years.

In 2005, the CDC released a study of 337 dogs from areas of Gabon during an outbreak of Ebola in 2001-2002. Many of the dogs had been exposed to dead Ebola victims on the streets, or come into contact with the virus through eating infected dead animals or licking contaminated bodily fluids.

The study found that between 9 and 25 percent of the dogs roaming the streets of the communities showed antibodies to Ebola, a sign they were infected or exposed to the virus.

We also know that dogs are asymptomatic of Ebola, and according to the latest research, there are no cases of Ebola spreading to people from dogs on record.

But while the data supports the fact that a dog could potentially transmit the disease to a person, we need to be really careful in how we interpret it. Had the CDC come out and warned of this potential from the beginning, and explained that the chances of it happening are very low, they could have quelled some of the new wave of fear and anger that has come over pet owners and animal lovers alike with the news of this poor dog, Excalibur in Spain.

So what’s the bottom line here? Should pet owners in America be worried about Ebola? The answer is no. However, my wish is for the CDC to stop giving piece-meal warnings to Americans and be proactive with their public health information so that we can get rid of the fear of Ebola – which right now is doing just more damage in America, as the disease itself.