Stray dogs captured nationwide will be vaccinated against rabies within a week and free rabies shots are being offered to pets as part of government efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, which has returned to Taiwan after more than 50 years.
The government is stepping up efforts to capture and vaccinate strays in Nantou, Yunlin and Taitung counties, where four cases of rabies infection in animals have been confirmed.
Council of Agriculture official Huang Kuo-ching (黃國青) told 21 animal rights groups at a meeting yesterday that the vaccinations are being done to prevent potentially infected strays from attacking and spreading the disease to wild animals, other dogs orhumans.
The estimated 6,800 stray dogs in shelters around the county will all be vaccinated against rabies within a week, while another 30,000 adopted by local animal rescue workers will all receive rabies shots within a month, Huang said.
The government notified the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of three confirmed rabies infections on July 17, ending the nation’s listing as being free of rabies in animals, a status it has held since 1961.
The three cases were reported in Yuchih (魚池) and Lugu (鹿谷) townships in Nantou County and in Gukeng Township (古坑) in Yunlin County, and all involved wild Formosan ferret-badgers.
On July 23, another confirmed rabies infection in a wild Formosan ferret-badger was reported. Hours before its death, it bit a man in Singchang Village (興昌) in Taitung County’s Donghe Township (東河).
Hualien County is offering free rabies shots to pets, as several mountain townships — Sioulin (秀林), Wanrong (萬榮), Jhuosi (卓溪) and Shoufeng (壽豐) — are close to Donghe. The shots are available at township offices.
New Taipei City (新北市) is also offering to vaccinate pet dogs and cats against rabies for free, as dead Formosan ferret-badgers have been found in mountainous areas in the city’s Shihding (石碇), Shuangsi (雙溪) and Sijhih (汐止) areas.
Meanwhile, a consensus reached at an intra-ministerial meeting yesterday stated that unleashed and non-vaccinated household pets will be barred from entering national parks and scenic areas to prevent them from coming into contact with potentially infected wild animals.
Greater Kaohsiung’s Shoushan National Nature Park added that it also plans to catch stray animals in the park’s mountainous areas and clamp down on people feeding stray dogs and Formosan macaques, a practice that is punishable by a fine of NT$3,000 (US$100).
The rounded-up animals will first be neutered and vaccinated against rabies before being transferred to privately run animal shelters, the park said.
Huang said due to the limited number of rabies vaccines for human use, the first wave of vaccine recipients were the more than 300 public-sector veterinarians, dog catchers, animal shelter employees and animal protection inspectors working in the mountainous areas of Nantou, Yunlin and Taitung.
According to Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), a batch of 10,000 shots of human rabies vaccine is set to arrive next week. The batch from France, set to arrive on Friday next week, will add to the 1,800 shots already imported and another 700 to be imported next week.
Chou also urged people not to have contact with or bring home wild animals, and they should avoid touching wounded wildlife with their bare hands.
“People who are scratched or bitten by wild animals should immediately wash the wounds with soap and water for at least 15 minutes and then apply povidone iodine or 70 percent alcohol to reduce the risk of [rabies infection,]” he said.
Additional reporting by Ko Yu-hao