Taiwan is adjacent to an area with a high risk of rabies contraction and people who are bitten by dogs with rabies, or have wounds that come into contact with the saliva of dogs with rabies, have a high risk of being infected, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Shih Wen-yih (施文儀) said yesterday.
Shih said a Taiwanese businessman was bitten by a dog in Wuhan in China’s Hebei Province in June and did not seek medical treatment.
By July 16, the businessman began to feel numbness, prickling and itchiness on the soles of his feet, as well as having a sense of discomfort in his lower body, Shih said, adding that by July 20 he was unable to drink any water, was constantly vomiting, had difficulty swallowing and had a swollen throat.
The businessman was sent back to Taiwan on July 23 for emergency treatment, but he is still in hospital after a month, Shih said.
According to Shih’s research, the first case of rabies in Taiwan occurred in 1947, when a rabid dog tore a man’s pant legs. His wife mended the pants and placed the needle and thread in her mouth to wet the thread. It was possible that his wife already had a wound in her mouth, or the needle pierced the flesh and infected the wife with the disease, which is nearly 100 percent fatal to humans.
Though Taiwan itself is a rabies-free zone, it is constantly threatened by the disease because the nation is close to China, a high-risk rabies infection area, Shih said.
There are about 2,000 cases of rabies infection in China every year, and the presence of fake vaccines on the market and smuggled pets also poses a great problem there, Shih said.
Shih also said that India has a far higher number of infected patients, amounting to 20,000 per year, and Bali Island — a hotspot for Taiwanese tourists — has had hundreds of cases of infection since 2008.
Shih listed five steps the public should take to prevent infection: Get vaccinated with the three vaccines for rabies, in the correct order, when visiting areas with rabies; avoid being scratched or bitten by cats, dogs, monkeys, bats and the like; when bitten by animals suspected to have rabies, wash the wound for 15 minutes with large amounts of soap and water, then sterilize it with 70 percent alcohol; and if scratched or wounded, immediately visit the hospital to be given antibodies to neutralize the virus, then be vaccinated — in the right order — with another five doses of the rabies vaccine.