The Central Epidemic Command Center for rabies was set up yesterday, with Vice Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) designated as commander-in-chief in the government’s battle against the spread of the disease, Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said.
As the number of confirmed rabies cases has risen and the disease has spread between species — ferret-badgers and Asian house shrews — Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) ordered establishment of the center to strengthen disease prevention previously handled by an intergovernmental task force jointly led by the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Cheng said.
Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) were both appointed center commanders.
Full cooperation between central and local governments is required to contain the rabies outbreak and to convey the correct information to educate the public so people would not be misinformed about the situation, Cheng said at a press conference, quoting Jiang’s directives at the regular weekly Cabinet meeting.
Chen downplayed the case of rabies found in an Asian house shrew, which was confirmed after the initial discovery of infected ferret-badgers, saying that transmission of the rabies virus between species happens anywhere the virus is active and it is not a new phenomenon.
However, when the virus jumps from one animal species to another, it creates complications in efforts to contain the disease, Chen added.
Since the case of the infected house shrew is the world’s first-ever case of the species becoming infected with rabies, it is important to prevent people being bitten by animals, he said.
The Council of Agriculture is to organize a conference soon to invite experts at the World Organization for Animal Health and the WHO to Taipei to discuss disease prevention and control, Chen said.
The health authorities have ordered tens of thousands of vaccine doses to protect people against the nation’s first rabies outbreak in more than 50 years.
According to Chiu, the new human vaccine doses are expected to arrive today and will supplement the 3,000 doses in stock.
Before last month, Taiwan’s last reported rabies case in animals was in 1959.
The only countries that world health officials now consider rabies-free are Iceland, New Zealand, the UK, Sweden, Norway (excluding the Svalbard Islands), Australia, Japan, Singapore, Hawaii and Guam.
Additional reporting by AP