Ebola and the Sting of a Dog's Death

The fate of Excalibur, a pet that may have been exposed in Spain, highlights our limited understanding of the virus.

Battling misinformation campaigns in West Africa and elsewhere has proven to be a daunting challenge during the largest Ebola outbreak on record. The latest incident involves Teresa Romero Ramos, a Spanish nursing assistant who contracted Ebola while treating two missionaries who died of the virus.

Ramos, the first person to fall ill from Ebola in Europe, claims to have followed all the protocols. However, as The Washington Post reported, one of her colleagues suggested that Ramos may have been exposed to the virus while taking off her protective suit. The dispute over the case has had repercussions including protests and calls for the Spanish health minister to resign.

Then there was the matter of Ramos' dog, Excalibur, whose fate was sealed on Wednesday when Madrid authorities put the mixed-breed pet to sleep.

The court order calling for the dog to be euthanized was met by protest both locally in Madrid as well as digitally, where a Change.org petition drew more than 375,000 signatures in just 24 hours. An accompanying hashtag campaign #saveexcalibur and its Spanish-language counterpart garnered thousands of solidarity tweets, many involving pictures of pets. Ramos' husband posted a video from isolation calling on authorities to save his dog.

A clear answer on whether dogs could spread Ebola remains elusive. Only one academic study on the topic of Ebola and dogs is said to exist. The study, which followed an Ebola outbreak in Gabon, concludes that "dogs might be asymptomatically infected by Ebola virus in the wild. This finding has potential implications for preventing and controlling human outbreaks."

In other words, who knows? A spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association told NBC News, "I think it's possible that dogs might spread Ebola, but it's not likely in the U.S. or other places where dogs aren't near corpses or eating infected animals."