Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week confirmed the first domestic cases of a zoonotic vector-borne emerging infectious disease called the Tembusu virus in northern and central areas of the country. Detection of the virus within the nation’s borders follows previously confirmed cases in Malaysia, China and Thailand, making Taiwan the fourth country in the world with cases of the disease.
The Tembusu virus was first discovered within duck farms in eastern China in 2010. According to Animal Health Research Institute Director-General Chiou Chwei-jang, in November last year the institute began to investigate a duck farm which was experiencing reduced egg production. Testing initially failed to provide an answer, but a meeting of experts in December confirmed the existence of Tembusu virus at the farm. The virus is mainly spread by mosquitoes during the summer months.
Chiou says the virus primarily affects egg laying and the mortality rate among poultry is quite low; as such the risk to the poultry industry is limited. However, Chiou advises duck farms to guard against secondary infection, which could lead to increased mortality rates if ducks are infected by the virus a second time. For consumers, eating poultry meat and eggs does not pose a health risk, so long as it is cooked through, Chiou adds.
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According to CDC researcher Shu Pei-yun, in 2005 the CDC established a vector mosquito monitoring program to monitor dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis vectors, and which also checks for the Tembusu virus. Last year, the Tembusu virus was detected in culex mosquitoes within a northern wetland area and in tiger mosquitoes near a pigsty in central Taiwan. Shu says the strain of Tembusu virus detected in Taiwan is different from that found in other countries, suggesting that a new strain has developed in Taiwan.
Shu adds that although the virus was detected for the first time last year, it may have already been present in Taiwan for some time, undetected. Research teams are working on the assumption the disease came to Taiwan in 2010, since there was a severe outbreak of the Tembusu virus in China that year. The virus may have come to Taiwan via migratory birds, like Japanese encephalitis and the H7N9 avian influenza virus, Shu says.
The Tembusu virus was discovered for the first time in Malaysia in 1955. It is an emerging infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes and is zoonotic, which means it can be spread among infected poultry animals. Case of infection in humans have been detected in Malaysia and China, however the infected individuals presented no significant symptoms.
(Translated by Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
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