Update: At 2 p.m. ET, our correspondent in Madrid informed us that Excalibur had been euthanized, reportedly inside the couple’s apartment; the body was then transported to an incinerator.
The latest victim of the Ebola panic has not been tested for the deadly virus. But he lived with someone who has it.
Amid fear over the virus’s possible spread in Europe, Spanish authorities say they’ll take no chances. They will not test him. Instead, to play it safe, they will kill him.
This latest victim … is a dog.
Excalibur, a sandy-colored mixed-breed mutt, belonged to a Spanish nurse who was the first case of Ebola to be transmitted outside Africa.
María Teresa Romero Ramos, 40, helped treat two Spanish priests who had contracted Ebola in West Africa, where they worked. They were repatriated to Spain for treatment but died in August and September.
Doctors say Romero entered one of the infected priests’ rooms just twice: once to help treat him, and once after his death, to collect some of his belongings. She was wearing a protective suit but somehow became infected. Today she told Spain’s El País newspaper that the problem might have been when she removed her protective gear.
Laid low by a fever, Romero hung out with her dog in her apartment, in a southern suburb of Madrid, for about a week before checking herself into a hospital this past Monday. Her husband has been placed in isolation as well, as a precaution, though he has no Ebola symptoms.
Madrid’s regional government issued a statement Tuesday saying that rather than follow the same procedure with the couple’s dog, it would euthanize the pet. It said the procedure would be carried out in such a way as to minimize his suffering, and that his body would be incinerated.
From his hospital room, the husband, Javier Limón, responded in a video posted on YouTube.
“This is a call to the population to help me save my dog, Excalibur,” Limón says. “They want to kill him.”
More than 325,000 people have signed an online petition to try to save the dog.
A bewildered Excalibur had been left alone in the couple’s apartment until medical workers arrived early this morning to disinfect the apartment. Dozens of animal lovers, many carrying their own pets, turned out to try to block them.
“Murderers!” they yelled at medical workers who pulled up in an ambulance.
The science on whether pets can transmit Ebola to humans is unclear. The virus can infect mammals. In the current West African outbreak, the source is believed to have been an infected bat. In previous outbreaks, people may have caught the virus when they handled the carcasses of infected gorillas, chimpanzees or other non-human primates.
“There is one article in the medical literature that discusses the presence of antibodies to Ebola in dogs,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at a news conference Tuesday. The study, from 2005, looked at several dogs in Gabon who’d eaten Ebola-infected dead animals. The authors reported, “This study suggests that dogs can be infected by Ebola virus and that the putative infection is asymptomatic.”
“Whether that was an accurate test and whether that was relevant, we do not know,” Frieden said. But, he added: “We have not identified this as a means of transmission.”
And even as the world begs for the dog to live, there is the question of context. Edu Madina, a Basque politician, posted this tweet:
Un perro en Madrid ha generado más movilización y noticias que miles de muertos por ébola en África. Para reflexionar.
— Edu Madina (@EduMadina) October 8, 2014
“One dog in Madrid has generated more mobilization and news than thousands of deaths from Ebola in Africa. Something to reflect on.”