The nation’s first rabies outbreak in more than 50 years has sparked a public scare and started a trend in which pet dogs and cats are being abandoned. The authorities should educate the public and eliminate ignorance about rabies.
All the confirmed cases of rabies found so far — 36 as of yesterday — have been in ferret-badgers and Asian house shrews, and the affected regions are in the mountain areas of seven central and southern cities and counties.
It is understandable that people are worried about the reappearance of rabies. However, information from the Central Epidemic Command Center showed that no cats or dogs have been infected, and the center is working hard to obtain more vaccines for animals. The stockpile is estimated to reach 1.71 million doses by the end of October.
Vaccinating wild animals, and cats and dogs, including strays, is crucial to prevent the further spread of the disease. The center should also carry out its promise to raise the vaccination rates for cats and dogs from 40 percent to 60 or 70 percent.
With a lack of experience in dealing with rabies, the government must enhance coordination between different agencies to contain the outbreak, and be wary of cross-species infections, especially to dogs and cats. This would dramatically increase the threat to humans.
While the authorities are urging the public to stay away from strays and to avoid touching wild animals, taking drastic measures against animals is the last thing the nation needs in the fight against rabies.
Last week, Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) announced that the city, where the first confirmed rabies case was found, will suspend the adoption of cats and dogs from local animal shelters. The city will also ban any public pet adoption activities until the rabies outbreak is contained.
The move drew immediate criticism from animal rights groups for doing little to prevent rabies while sacrificing animals’ rights.
Suspending adoption is irresponsible and will not stop rabies from spreading. Having rabies vaccines for cats and dogs would provide basic immunity for the animals and keep pet owners from getting infected. Stopping people from adopting animals could lead to more strays on the streets and create more panic.
Greater Tainan, has tackled the issue differently. Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) said the city will step up vaccination of strays and increase the vaccination rate to 100 percent.
It is authorities’ responsibility to send out the correct messages to the public regarding the prevention of rabies. Over-reacting will only be counterproductive to anti-rabies efforts.
The center should set up standard procedures for all cities and counties to follow, rather than “respecting local governments’ preventive measures” which was its response to Greater Taichung’s controversial move.
Anti-rabies work is a battle on a national security level, and it requires united efforts from the central and local governments. Authorities should focus their efforts on wiping out the virus in wild animals and tightening border controls to prevent animals being smuggled into Taiwan, while educating the public to get their pets vaccinated without panicking over the virus.