A meeting on rabies prevention measures was held by the Council of Agriculture yesterday to “solicit opinions from and strengthen communication with” staff from local animal disease prevention agencies, healthcare providers, veterinarian groups, animal protection groups and wildlife researchers.
Kevin Lee (李惠仁), a freelance journalist who directed a documentary exposing the government’s alleged concealment of the avian influenza outbreak, was also present and questioned the need for animal experiments assessing the infectivity of the virus strain isolated from rabid ferret-badgers.
Lee said that China and Taiwan are the only places in the world that have ever reported rabies infection in ferret-badgers. In addition, the experiment on dogs proposed by the council has already been carried out by Chinese rabies specialist Hu Rongliang (扈榮良), who found that there is a between 30 percent and 50 percent chance that dogs infected with the virus would die, and its results were published in an international journal, he said.
Animal Health Research Institute Director-General Tsai Hsiang-jung (蔡向榮) said that there is a 10 percent difference between virus strains found in Taiwan and China.
“The question of why the virus is found only in ferret-badgers [in Taiwan] still remains to be answered. We know that all warm-blooded animals are subject to infection, but how infectious [this strain] is in dogs is unknown, so is the incubation period and the viral load in the saliva,” Tsai said.
It is only when these questions are answered that the government would know whether there is a need to upgrade or downgrade prevention measures, Tsai added.
At the post-meeting press conference, Chang Su-san (張淑賢), director of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said the experiment is crucial for risk assessment and possible adjustments to current prevention measures.
Questions such as what symptoms a dog infected with rabies might display and how the infected dog passes the virus in its saliva also need to be answered, Chang said.
“Cellular testing cannot fully replace animal experimentation,” Chang added.
On the proposal to distribute oral rabies vaccine to wild animals, Chang said there are two kinds of oral vaccine in use globally.
In Europe, live attenuated vaccines are used, while in the US and Canada recombinant vaccines are used for oral immunization of wildlife.
“We will conduct evaluations on both kinds of oral vaccines to see which is more appropriate for Taiwanese ferret-badgers,” Chang said. “Such an evaluation takes at least one to two years. Our task is to develop a bait that is both of appropriate size and attractive enough to ferret-badgers.”
Chen Chen-chih (陳貞志), a postdoctoral academic at National Pingtung University’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation, agreed that such evaluation takes time, and said that how vaccines distributed in this way might affect the environment also has to be taken into consideration.
“For instance, where to place the vaccines has to be considered with the participation of epidemiologists to figure out current disease hotspots and potential new hotspots,” Chen said.