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Taiwan on high alert for rabies outbreak

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-08-03 07:56

TAIPEI - Taiwan is on high alert for rabies since the virus jumped from infected ferret-badgers to an Asian house shrew.

Another case of rabies in a ferret-badger was found in Taichung City on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed rabies cases to 22 on the island, including one case of an infected Asian house shrew, the island's Epidemic Command Center for Rabies, which was set up on Thursday, said at a press conference on Friday.

Prior to the ongoing outbreak, Taiwan had been rabies-free since 1959.

The island's health authorities said the transmission of the rabies virus between members of the same species is common.

However, when the virus spreads between different species, as in the case of its spread from infected ferret-badgers to an Asian house shrew, "that becomes something alarming, because it creates complications in curbing the disease," said Chen Bao-ji, a zoo technician as well as a commander of the center.

So far, six counties and cities, including Nantou, Yunlin, Taitung, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, have reported rabies cases.

Killing rats has become a focus in epidemic control measures since a rabid Asian house shrew was caught last week in a house in Taitung County.

The county's environmental protection authority purchased 2,000 traps. That supply of traps has been depleted, and even hardware stores are currently out of stock.

A hardware store owner noted that in the past, the public has been less responsive to the government's calls for killing rats, but exterminating rodents is currently a "campaign of all the people."

The epidemic has aroused panic on the island. Some people have abandoned their pet cats and dogs, despite experts' assurances that their animals are safe from the epidemic as long as they have been vaccinated against rabies.

Meanwhile, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu called on citizens to put off adopting stray cats and dogs without a quarantine certificate.

To engage the public in the epidemic control work, Gukung Township of Yunlin County carried out a "catch a stray cat or dog, get a pack of rice" campaign, offering 2.5-kg packs of rice to citizens that catch a stray cat or dog.

In Pingtung County, unvaccinated pets have not been allowed aboard a commuter ferry from Donggang to Liu-Chiu Township since Thursday.

Although no cases of rabies have been reported in Taipei, the city government still set up an Epidemic Response Center and the Taipei Zoo has enhanced its control measures, including increased inspections to keep pets and wild animals from entering the zoo.

The Epidemic Command Center for Rabies held its second meeting on Friday to tell the public not to panic, as the rabies virus is mainly transmitted through being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. The disease can still be treated after a bite or scratch, as long as a vaccination is administered in time.

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