Four more cases of rabies in animals were confirmed — three in Formosan ferret-badgers and one in an Asian house shrew — the Council of Agriculture (COA) said, bringing the total confirmed cases to 19 as of yesterday.
The 18 cases of rabies-infected ferret-badgers were spread among six counties and 15 townships — with 10 cases found in seven townships in Nantou County, three cases in Taitung County and Taitung City, two in Greater Kaohsiung, and one case each in Greater Taichung, Yunlin County and Greater Tainan.
Since the COA reported Taiwan’s first rabies cases on July 16, all reported cases of animal infections had been found in wild ferret-badgers, a nocturnal carnivore that mostly inhabit mountainous areas.
However, the case of a shrew caught in a house in Taitung County last week is the world’s first-ever case of an Asian house shrew infected by rabies, raising concerns about the spread of the virus between different mammals and whether it increases the risk of human infection.
Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine Director Chang Su-san (張淑賢) said in addition to bats, dogs and the six major carnivore species being monitored — Formosan ferret-badger, Formosan masked civet, leopard cat, yellow weasel, crab-eating mongoose and small Indian civet —the Asian house shrew and other rodents will now also be monitored.
“The Asian house shrew is at a low level in the food chain, so they are often eaten by other animals in the wilderness and seldom infect humans with diseases,” National Taiwan University veterinary sciences professor Pang Fei (龐飛) said.
Fei Chang-yung (費昌勇), another professor in the same department, said the ferret-badger is still the main “reservoir” host species — infected by a virus and serving as a source of infection for humans or other species — and the shrew may have been bitten by a ferret-badger with rabies, but is not a main source of infection.
Chang said the council has instructed the Taitung County Government to tighten its rodent control measures and urged the public to maintain a clean household environment to prevent attracting shrews or rats that may carry the virus.
In addition, the cats and dogs that had been examined for rabies all tested negative, so the virus has so far only been found in wild animals, she said.
Chang added that research has shown rabies is unlikely to become epidemic if about 70 percent to 80 percent of cats and dogs are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, tourism officials said the outbreak of rabies has not yet affected the local travel industry, adding that the authorities are monitoring the situation closely and providing necessary information to foreign travelers.
“Taiwan’s ability to control diseases has been trusted,” said Lai Ping-jung (賴炳榮), director of the Tourism Bureau’s Hotel, Travel and Training Division, adding that the bureau has not seen a decline in the number of foreign visitors.
However, to minimize the impact of the disease on the industry, Lai said, information sessions on rabies and relevant control measures will be held for tourism operators in Japan and Singapore, Taiwan’s major inbound travel markets which are rabies-free areas.
Apart from the two Asian countries, only eight other countries or regions in the world are listed as rabies-free: Iceland, New Zealand, the UK, Sweden, Norway (excluding the Svalbard Islands), Australia, Hawaii and Guam.
Although the areas where rabies cases were reported are not close to the nation’s major tourist destinations, local tour guides will receive instructions and training from the bureau on handling emergency situations, Lai said.
Additional reporting by CNA