Ebola-exposed dog's first test for the virus is negative

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Bentley will continue to be treated with an abundance of caution for the remainder of his quarantine, while his owner has been declared 'virus-free.'

More than a week into his 21-day quarantine, Bentley, the 1-year-old King Charles Spaniel of Ebola patient Nina Pham, has tested negative for the virus. Bentley will be tested two more times during his isolation providing the rare opportunity for veterinary and public health researchers to monitor an Ebola-exposed canine.

Urine and feces samples were collected from Bentley, as well as a blood sample, to be tested with PCR to see if the dog is shedding the virus. "We have much to learn from Bentley," says Eleanor Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine? at the University of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Green says the Texas Animal Health Commission contacted her early to recruit the veterinary program's Veterinary Emergency Team, which is trained in bio-containment, to oversee Bentley's veterinary care.  Team leaders Wesley Bissett, DVM, PhD, and Deb Zoran, DVM, MS, PhD, are deployed to what Green described as an old military unit in Dallas where the dog is being kept to provide the same level or care and protocol used with human cases.

"They're treating him as if he's shedding virus even though we're hoping he isn't," Green says. "We suspect that he will not show clinical illness but we do not know that." The first negative test is a step in that direction.

However, Green says one negative test will not be considered conclusive. Bentley will be tested two more times during his containment-specifically at the end of the 21-day quarantine. "If negative, he will be restested. We want to double-check," Green says. "After that he will most likely be cleared for release." Of course there is much more to be considered before that happens, she said last week, for instance the condition of Bentley's owner.

However, as of Friday, Pham produced multiple negative tests for the virus and was released from the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. That same day Pham was welcomed into the Oval Office at the White House, receiving a hug from her doctor and President Barack Obama. Bentley is scheduled for release Nov. 1 and although Pham is anxious to reunite with her dog sooner, veterinarians have asked that Bentley's monitoring not be interrupted.

Since public health officials lack sufficient research to rule out dogs spreading Ebola, Green says Bentley is being handled with an abundance of caution. "Bentley is the first Ebola exposed dog in the U.S. What we do we have to do thoughtfully and carefully," she says.

Texas A&M, which offers the only veterinary college in the state, is working in partnership with the City of Dallas Animal Services, the Texas Animal Health Commission, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to oversee Bentley's veterinary care and isolation. "In this case so much expertise was pooled to come up with answers for Bentley," Green says.

U.S. health officials chose to handle the case differently than Spanish officials who euthanized the pet of nurses' assistant Teresa Romero Ramos-the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa. Instead, Bentley was quarantined, cared for and monitored. The information that can be learned from Bentley is vitally important to public health. "This won't be the last Ebola-exposed person that owns an animal," Green says.

The way Bentley is handled is also important for human medicine. "We know people will put their own lives at risk in the interest of their animals," Green says. "What we don't want to happen is people to become reluctant to report illness our of fear for their animals.

Green says the circumstances of this outbreak underscore the importance of One Health initiatives. "We can't take care of people without taking care of animals," she says. "That's the only way it's going to work."

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