Taiwan plan to infect dogs with rabies sparks global outcryBy Dominic Dietrich Nov 01, 2013 12:29PM UTC
Amid ongoing concerns about the re-emergence of rabies on the island nation, Taiwan’s proposal to infect a group of beagles with the rabies virus has attracted widespread criticism – much of it global. Amongst the movie stars and the physician committees, a couple of online petitioners have also emerged hoping that an international swathe of signatures may change the course of events.
In July of this year, Taiwan reported its first recorded case of rabies in more than half a century (the last instance was in 1959). In August, the country announced that a set of healthy beagles, mice and Formosan ferret-badgers would be infected with the disease to learn how it is transmitted between varying species, CNA reported.
Many within Taiwan responded in horror: animal protection groups, veterinarians, news commentators.
The same is true beyond the island nation’s shores.
“I believe all animal lovers are against this experiment,” Susie Tsai, a US based canine massage therapist, told Asian Correspondent. “Even … anyone who doesn’t care much about it would think this is unnecessary.”
Tsai has gone so far as to begin an online petition calling for Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) to scrap the planned injections of the beagles.
The petition aims to attract 5,000 signatures. At time of writing it had received 4,817, with signatories from across the planet.
Tsai’s is not the only petition making the rounds. Another, authored by a “Sidney Hsu,” calls for people to “Save innocent beagles from meaningless rabies testing in Taiwan.” It is looking to garner 10,000 signatures and currently has 3,520.
Yet easily the largest is that organized by the U.S.-based not-for-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which has thus far obtained 46,400 signatories and aims to reach 50,000. The petition, which like the others focuses on the beagles, is written both in English and Chinese.
The international advocacy has not stopped with petitions. In the last two months, actors Maggie Q and Alec Baldwin have both written letters to the COA urging them against the experiment.
“Having lived and worked in Taiwan, I know it to be a place of progressive ideas and practices,” wrote Maggie Q in a September 12 letter. “I am concerned that these experiments are a step backward, not forward.”
No date has been set for the injections, with the COA stating recently that the plan will be discussed at a meeting next year, CNA reported. COA Minister Chen Bao-ji has said that a panel of animal rights activists and experts will attend the meeting and review the plan based on global laboratory and ethical criteria, CNA reported.
Opponents of the tests state that they are useless, arguing that it is well known that the disease can pass between warm-blooded animals. The PCRM petition notes that “nonanimal laboratory procedures can address this issue quickly, without killing any animals.” In an August piece in The Huffington Post, PCRM President Neal Barnard stated that “in the last 20 years, just two of 340 papers published on rabies even mentioned infecting dogs to test a vaccine. This is not good science.”
The PCRM petition urges the government to instead focus its efforts on confirming whether current rabies vaccines work against the emergent strain. Taiwan has conducted a program of vaccinations – both of animals and people – since the disease re-emerged.
Rabies, which is often transmitted via bites or scratches but can also be spread by infectious materials such as saliva, causes “progressive, fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord,” the World Health Organization (WHO) explains, noting that the disease can take two courses: “furious rabies” or “paralytic rabies.” Rabies kills more than 55,000 people every year, predominantly in Asia and Africa, the WHO notes, adding that “once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is nearly always fatal.”
As of Oct. 22, Taiwanese government data stated that 2,316 wild animals had been tested for rabies, and of those the disease was found in 201 wild Formosan ferret-badgers and one Asian house shrew, CNA reported.
“A pet dog that had been bitten by a rabies-infected ferret-badger was also found to be infected,” CNA noted. “Rabies infections have been reported in 57 townships and districts across nine counties and municipalities, all in the central and southern parts of Taiwan.”
As is so often the case, a domestic issue has taken a global hue. As Tsai put it, “the world is watching.”