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Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Pet owners need not fear virus

PUBLIC SCARE Alarm over the hantavirus has led some people to reconsider keeping their pet mice and rats, with one man volunteering hundreds of his furry friends as alligator food

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

Environmental officials inspect mousetraps at National Taiwan University's entomology laboratory yesterday following reports of hantavirus cases.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Your pet mouse or rat isn't likely a carrier of the deadly hantavirus and should be cared for like any other pet, scholars and health officials said yesterday.

A public scare over the virus, which is spread through contaminated rat feces, has led some to contemplate abandoning their pet mice or rats.

A Tainan resident reportedly has turned over 300 mice he has raised for four years to a small zoo, for fear he might contract the virus. The mice were used to feed the zoo's alligators.

The public has been worried about a possible hantavirus outbreak after the Center for Disease Control confirmed last month that the virus killed a Hualien couple, Wu Mu-kuei (吳木桂) and his wife, Huang Hsueh-chiao (黃雪嬌).

But so far, there has only been one other case of suspected hantavirus infection in Taiwan.

The Bureau of Animal and Plant Inspection and Quarantine under the Council of Agriculture said yesterday it plans to ban the raising of pet mice to prevent rodent-borne diseases.

But that has raised concerns about pet owners abandoning their mice because of the ban. The council said it would ask local governments to establish centers for the collection of pet mice that owners no longer wish to care for.

Li Ping-ying (李秉穎), associate professor of pediatrics of National Taiwan University, said pet owners have asked him whether pet rats should be dumped in order to avoid hantavirus infection.

Li said that pet rats are not likely to be the species that would carry hantavirus.

"In fact, pet mice are not transmitters of hantavirus. They are isolated from rats and pet owners should not panic and dump them," Li said.

Meanwhile, local media reported yesterday that doctors in Kaohsiung and Nantou counties believe they have discovered four more cases of hantavirus infection.

According to the doctors, two of the patients died on Wednesday and yesterday.

But Hsu Kwo-hsiung (許國雄), deputy director-general of the Center for Disease Control, said these cases have yet to be confirmed and there was no evidence yet of a hantavirus outbreak.

Liu Hwan-wun (劉鴻文), director general of preventive medicine of at the National Defense Medical Center, said an outbreak wasn't likely.

Liu noted that the Hualien couple's daughter has recovered after being infected with the virus, and that the patient in the other probable case is doing fine.

"We have control over the disease," Liu said.

Liu also said traces of hantavirus were detected in the Hualien couple's other daughter and her friends, but they have not fallen ill.

"The virus has a severe effect probably only on people with special health conditions, such as a weaker immunity," he said.

Liu said analysis indicated that the virus which killed the Hualien couple is 99 percent similar to the Seoul strain of hantavirus. Health officials say the Seoul strain has been found in Taiwan but has only caused minor health problems.

Experts say the virus that killed the Hualien couple may be a mutation of the Seoul strain.

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