COA confirms three cases of rabies in ferret-badgers

VIRAL THREAT::Taiwan has not had a case of animal rabies since 1961, but officials are taking no chances and are readying about 600,000 vaccines to inoculate pets

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - Page 3

The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday confirmed three cases of rabies in wild Formosan ferret-badgers, putting Taiwan back on the list of countries with the virus after it was declared free of domestic animal rabies cases in 1961 and human infections in 1959.

The council made the announcement following a meeting with specialists earlier yesterday.

Tsai Hsiang-jung (蔡向榮), director-general of the COA’s Animal Health Research Institute, said the council received samples from three dead Formosan ferret-badgers from a laboratory at National Taiwan University’s (NTU) School of Veterinary Medicine last month. The institute conducted a series of tests before confirming the samples were positive for rabies.

Pang Fei (龐飛), a professor at the NTU veterinary school, said two of the three ferret-badgers were found last year in the lower mountainous areas of Nantou County’s Yuchih (魚池) and Lugu (鹿谷) townships, and the other in Yunlin County’s Gukeng Township (古坑).

Autopsies of the three ferrets revealed inflammation in the protective membranes covering the brain, but initial testing for canine distemper virus came up negative, Pang said, adding that rabies tests were only conducted last month after other viruses were ruled out.

The World Organisation for Animal Health’s recommends taking brain samples from live animals to test for rabies, but because the Formosan ferret-badgers were already dead when the lab received the tissue samples it had to use other methods as well to make sure the results were accurate, he added.

Chang Su-san (張淑賢), director of the council’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said the council will report to the organization by today.

Taiwan became one of the 10 countries or areas in the world without any domestic cases of animal rabies in 1961, Chang said, adding that the institute has guarded against the virus in dogs since 1999 and in bats since 2008, and has not found any trace of it.

However, since the bureau received the report on the ferret-badgers on June 24, it has taken emergency pre-emptive measures by providing 12,000 free vaccines for dogs kept near the mountainous areas that the ferret-badgers inhabit, and 5,000 dogs have already been inoculated, she said.

The bureau has about 100,000 emergency animal rabies vaccines prepared and is expecting another 80,000 imported vaccines by the end of next month, Chang said.

When added to the approximately 230,000 vaccines already on the market and another 200,000 vaccines to be ordered soon, about 600,000 vaccines will be available for pets in Taiwan, she said, urging all dog owners to bring their pets to the vet to get inoculated.