NEW YORK – A horrifying threat has surfaced in the fight West Africans are waging against the epidemic of Ebola – dogs digging up corpses of virus victims and feasting on the remains, then carrying the infection with them wherever they go next.
A recent report in the Mail Online in the U.K. said villagers in Liberia were complaining dogs were found digging up the corpses of Ebola victims buried in shallow graves and eating them in the street.
“Furious residents of Johnsonville Township, outside capital Monrovia, raised the alarm after packs of wild dogs were spotted digging up corpses from a specially designated ‘Ebola graveyard,’ dragging them into the open and feeding on their flesh,” the Mail Online noted.
“Now fears are mounting that the dogs – which cannot grow sick from the strain of Ebola running rampant through West Africa but can carry it – will be able to pass it on to humans through licking or biting.”
A YouTube video documented the problem with dogs eating corpses of buried Ebola-infected dead in Johnsonville Township.
In addition, a scientific study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases 2005 and posted on the CDC website demonstrated that dogs eating the corpses of Ebola-infected humans can become infected with Ebola, posing a risk of spreading the disease to humans as well as to other animals.
“During the 2001–2002 outbreak in Gabon, we observed that several dogs were highly exposed to Ebola virus by eating infected dead animals,” wrote lead author Lois Allela, a veterinary inspector with the Ministry of Environment of Gabon.
“Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks occurred in villages where people keep domestic animals, including dogs,” the study continued.
“The dogs are not fed and have to scavenge for their food. They eat small dead animals found near the villages and also internal organs of wild animals hunted and slaughtered by villagers. Some dogs are also used for hunting in the dense forested area.”
The scientists compared a control group of 102 dogs living in France to 258 dogs sampled in the area of Gabon hit by the 2001-2001 outbreak.
“We found evidence that dogs can be infected by Ebola virus, a finding that raises important human health issues,” the researchers concluded.
Said the study:
Given the frequency of contact between humans and domestic dogs, canine Ebola infection must be considered as a potential risk factor for human infection and virus spread. Human infection could occur through licking, biting, or grooming. Asymptomatically infected dogs could be a potential source of human Ebola outbreaks and of virus spread during human outbreaks …
The scientists stressed these findings “strongly suggest that dogs should be taken into consideration during the management of human Ebola outbreaks.”
On Sept. 12, dog expert Stanley Coren, Ph.D., said in Psychology Today:
Although dogs are susceptible to Ebola, the CDC concluded that “infected dogs are asymptomatic,” meaning that they do not develop symptoms. During the early phase of their infection, however, they can spread the disease to humans and other animals through licking, biting, urine, and feces. However, the good news is that once the virus is cleared from the dog it is no longer contagious. Dogs do not die from Ebola infections.
Coren downplayed the risk here, noting at the time of publication, “The good news is that there is no known source of Ebola infection outside of the affected areas in Africa.”
He concluded, “In the developed world, most countries have more stringent rules concerning food production and sanitation, which means that, in the same way that humans are protected from this deadly disease, so are our dogs.”