No need for rabies panic
I congratulate you on Saturday’s editorial (“Overdrawn at the Earth bank,” Aug. 24, page 8).
However, my letter concerns the scare mongering over rabies. One wonders if there really are more rabid ferret-badgers or instead more rabid “experts” misinforming the public.
Given the amount of misinformation, it is perhaps unfair to single out Taiwan Counter Contagious Diseases Society president Wang Jen-hsien (王任賢), (“Science can calm the rabies panic,” Aug. 24, page 8), especially since most of his suggestions are very reasonable. However, Wang also gets it woefully wrong a couple of times.
His biggest blunder is to suggest that there is a link between the number of cats and dogs in Taiwan, and the likelihood of rabies.
The number of cats and dogs has nothing to do with the re-emergence of the virus. There could be 1 billion cats and dogs in Taiwan, but if the virus is not present, then there would not be any outbreak.
Of course, once rabies is present, more cats and dogs means higher virus transmission rates. However, as Wang correctly observed, this problem is easily taken care of by sufficiently high vaccination rates.
Another erroneous claim is that the discovery of rabies “is a sign of improving care for the environment.”
Unless Wang meant the bettering of environmental monitoring, this makes little sense, and in any case, the virus’ re-emergence is certainly not “something worth celebrating.”
The question everybody naturally asks is how rabies came to Taiwan. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the virus could have survived in some species of wild animals for decades without being detected.
A more likely theory is that it was transferred by wild bats flying into the country from a region with rabies. However, the most likely explanation is that animal trafficking is to blame.
Given the irresponsible logic of free globalized trade driven by neo-liberal economics, domestic and wild animals are shipped or smuggled in the billions around the planet each year. The bacteria, viruses and other nasty organisms who hitchhike with them are grateful.
That is how bird flu spread rapidly around the globe (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 2006, Vol. 103, pages 19368 to 19373), that is how West Nile virus hitchhiked around the world within the tiger mosquito (Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 2007, Vol. 7, pages 76 to 85) and that is most likely how Taiwan was re-infected with rabies. Maybe somebody smuggled infected ferret-badgers from the Philippines or brought an infected dog from China.
It will never be known for sure because all this is conjecture. What is certain is that better policing of animal trafficking is urgently needed.
Yet Wang is absolutely right in saying “there has been a lot of overreaction and panic [at the outbreak].” The media has blown a minor issue out of proportion. No person has been killed by the virus far and most likely no one will.