Officials say no reason to panic over rabies cases

SHOTS FOR PETS URGED::Tests have confirmed that three wild Formosan ferret-badgers had rabies, ending a decades-long freedom from the disease in Taiwan

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Jul 18, 2013 - Page 3

The Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine yesterday said the public does not need to panic about rabies, but suggested that people should have their pets vaccinated.

People who are bitten by a wild animal should also get vaccinated, it said.

The Council of Agriculture on Tuesday night announced that rabies had been confirmed in three wild Formosan ferret-badgers, returning Taiwan to the list of countries with the virus for the first time in 54 years. The disease is believed to have been spread by animals smuggled into the country that were then released into the wild.

However, bureau Director Chang Su-san (張淑賢) rebuffed criticism that the council had been hiding the recurrence of rabies for more than a year.

Writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), a former deputy director-general of the Centers for Disease Control, accused the council of a cover-up when it failed to immediately report the discovery that a ferret-badger had rabies in May last year.

Chang said Shih’s posting was “misleading the public,” adding that National Taiwan University had conducted repeated tests on the corpses of the ferret-badgers to rule out the possibility of other virus infections, and it only confirmed the rabies diagnosis to the bureau on June 24.

She said the findings would be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health last night.

However, Shih continued to raise questions yesterday in his Facebook posts. He wrote that the council might have created the false impression that “Taiwan has been a rabies-free area in the past 50 years because, of course, there will be no cases when it does not test for the virus.”

Chang said that since 1999, the bureau had conducted tests for rabies on a total of 7,266 dead pet cats and dogs, and stray dogs that had been euthanized. Since 2008, it had also tested wild bats, but no trace of the virus was found, she said.

While the bureau will tighten border controls to prevent the smuggling of animals into Taiwan and enforce emergency inoculation measures of domestic animals in mountainous areas, the public should not panic too much about rabies, she said.

However, she also said pets should receive rabies shots.

CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said the agency has tracked 25 people who had close contact with the wild ferret-badgers, and while none had been bitten or scratched, they were advised to get inoculated.

Since Taiwan was declared free of human rabies infection cases in 1959, the centers have kept 200 human vaccines on hand at all times, but it plans to increase that number to about 1,000, he said.

People should stay away from wild animals, refrain from keeping them as pets and get inoculated as soon as possible if they are bitten by wild animals or dogs, Chou said.

The bureau said it has stockpiled 100,000 doses of anti-rabies vaccine for animals and will import 80,000 next month, while veterinary medicine suppliers have 230,000 doses in stock and will import 200,000 more.

Statistics show that only 30 percent to 40 percent of domestic dogs and cats have been immunized against rabies. Experts have suggested that the vaccination rate should be raised to 70 percent to provide greater protection.

Additional reporting by CNA