Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said yesterday that animal experiments are necessary to better understand the rabies virus found in Taiwan and determine corresponding disease prevention policies.
The Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine announced last week that its affiliated research center, the Animal Health Research Institute, would conduct an experiment using 14 beagles as test subjects to see if dogs can be infected by the rabies virus found in Formosan ferret-badgers.
The announcement invoked opposing voices from animal rights groups and several veterinarians, saying that the experiment is inhumane, unnecessary and unhelpful for disease prevention, resulting in the Central Epidemic Command Center’s response on Monday that it would consult with specialists from other countries.
As Chen revealed the details of the animal experiment yesterday, he said the experiment was necessary and would be conducted on rats, dogs and ferret-badgers in three stages, to better understand the virus and the route of infection, and the test results would provide a scientific basis for future disease prevention.
The outbreak of rabies has been limited to ferret-badgers, with only one exception, an infected house shrew, and a DNA sequence alignment analysis showed that the viruses found in the ferret-badgers are of three genotypes, meaning that the rabies viruses may have existed and evolved for more than 10 years.
However, there have been no cases of dogs or humans being infected by rabies in Taiwan over the past 10 years, which is a unique situation that requires an experiment to better understand the virus, Chen said, adding that the experiments on rats and dogs would provide an answer to whether dogs can be infected by the virus and how big a dose of the virus would lead to death.
Experimenting on ferret-badgers would help clarify whether the animal is a virus reservoir that hosts the disease, he added.
Chen said that only through animal experiments could the council be more precise on the next steps of disease prevention, such as the evaluation and distribution of oral vaccines in mountainous areas suggested by some specialists.
The council would conform to the “3R” principle of replacement, reduction and refinement to avoid unnecessary abuse or death of animals, he said.