Accurately Diagnose Epidemic, Prevent Pet Abandonment
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 2, 2013
Summary: To no one's surprise, the public on Taiwan has been quick to panic and overreact. So far no cases of rabies in dogs have been found. Yet all over Taiwan, people have abandoned their cats, dogs, and other pets in panic. Such irresponsible behavior must be curbed. Otherwise, any rabies epidemic will only become more unpredictable, perhaps even uncontrollable.
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To no one's surprise, the public on Taiwan has been quick to panic and overreact. So far no cases of rabies in dogs have been found. Yet all over Taiwan, people have abandoned their cats, dogs, and other pets in panic. Such irresponsible behavior must be curbed. Otherwise, any rabies epidemic will only become more unpredictable, perhaps even uncontrollable.
The COA has confirmed a case of rabies in a shrew in Taitung. This makes scientific interpretation more difficult. Why is the current wave of rabies concentrated in ferret badgers and shrews? What was the source of the virus? If the virus attacks another species, can it survive? These questions must be answered. Only then can the government's preventive measures be effective.
In 1959 Taiwan recorded its last case of rabies. Since then only three cases have been reported, all from foreign sources. For over half a century, Taiwan has not had a single local rabies case. Therefore a lack of familiarity with rabies is understandable. Naturally we lack monitoring or pathological studies. When agricultural authorities suddenly announced the discovery of ferret badger rabies, Taiwan promptly became an OIE rabies epidemic zone. This caught people off guard.
If humans are infected with the rabies virus, mortality after onset is nearly 100%. This number is truly frightening. But this number involves preconditions. For example, the infection rate varies depending upon one's physical constitution. Among those bitten, only 30% become infected. Over 90% of those infected were bitten by mad dogs. Taiwan has had three cases of rabies, all from the foreign sources. The rest were the result of scratches or bites from cats with rabies. The incident of infections from ferret badgers, shrews, and other mammals is nearly infinitesjmal.
Almost all mammals can be infected with the rabies virus. This is a fact. But animals able to infect humans with rabies are limited to five species of carnivora, specifically dogs, cats, mongooses, civets, and raccoons, and the "Chiroptera" bat. When the rabies virus enters these animals, it will divide and proliferate. The animals' bodies will harbor the viruses. After the onset of of the disease, it will pass the virus on to humans.
One point must be clarified. Different strains of rabies attach themselves to different hosts. The chance of transmission from one species to another is slight. Even if it spreads to another species, the virus cannot survive and multiply. Therefore, if a dog bites and infects a ferret badger, the virus has not found a new host. The shrew that bit a woman in Taitung was indeed infected. But it was probably incapable of hosting the virus. At least, no record of such cases exist.
Shrews are considered omens of good fortune in folklore. That is why they escaped slaughter by humans. Their are numerous. They have few natural enemies. Confirmation of infection could trigger a new wave of panic. The World Health Organization has examined tens of thousands of rodents found in human residences. They have found none infected with rabies. This shows that rodents are unable to act as hosts for the rabies virus. The shrew is an insectivore. No cases of shrews infected with rabies have been reported anywhere in the world. The infected shrew in Taitung is lower on the food chain than ordinary mice. Its ability to spread the rabies virus should be minimal.
Rabies has made a comeback. It is severely testing the ability of the epidemic prevention system to deal with unfamiliar viruses, This autumn the H7N9 avian flu will return to Taiwan. The rabies outbreak will serve as an exercise. It is also an opportunity to review the quarantine system for leaks.
First, expert members of the group should expand immunization. Rabies vaccination diagnosis and implementation is handled mainly by agricultural and public health agencies. This should be expanded to include veterinary experts, zoos with practical experience, and animal shelters. Experts must compile accurate records. Only that will prevent incorrect diagnoses.
Secondly, the rapid exchange of information and experience is vital, especially during a rabies outbreak. Mainland China has similar living conditions and customs. They have considerable experience that we could find valuable.
Thirdly, pet abandonment in the wake of epidemics must be addressed. Recently pet abandonment increased more than 30%. Many of them were trendy species owned by celebrities. This is cold-blooded animal exploitation. Among those exotic pets abandoned were minks, pangolins, and hedgehogs. Removal from their original habitat or overbreeding has left them with weak constitutions. Under the shadow of rabies, they are often abandoned. Most of these exotic pets were smuggled in. Customs and Coast Guard personnel lack expertise with wildlife. But the more fundamental problem is that government agencies are lax about enforcement. Abandoned pets could make any rabies outbreak even more catastrophic.
When dealing with rabies, honesty and caution are the real preventive measure. People bitten by unknown animals require first aid and vaccinations. The authorities must be frank, and not attempt to cover up the truth. Only this can ensure immunization, deterrence, and security.
2013.08.02 04:29 am