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COA defends plan to conduct rabies tests

TAIPEI--An official of the Council of Agriculture (COA) defended Saturday a plan to conduct animal tests on the rabies virus.

Chang Su-san, director-general of the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said the rabies virus strain in Taiwan is unique and that animal research is necessary to learn about the virulence and pathogenicity of the disease among Formosan ferret-badgers and its pathogenicity and symptoms in dogs.

The results of the basic tests will serve as the basis for research into oral vaccines, she added.

“Animal tests are necessary,” she asserted amid public concerns over whether the COA will proceed with the tests in the wake of protests by animal rights activists.

Chang said that currently, only China and Taiwan have reported cases of ferret-badgers infected with rabies, although the animals are also found in Southeast Asia.

The results of Taiwan's research are needed and will provide valuable reference to the world in research on rabies among wild ferret-badgers, she said.

“Taiwan has the responsibility to learn about the pathogenicity through this crisis,” Chang said.

She said the COA will conduct tests on rats in the initial phase of the research, then move to ferret-badgers and dogs.

The COA's Animal Health Research Institute has been commissioned to conduct experiments on 14 beagles.

The institute said it had originally planned to use 42 dogs, as suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but later decided to reduce the number to 14.

When asked if the number will be further adjusted, Chang said it is possible.

Animal protection groups held a prayer meeting in front of the COA in the afternoon.

As of Friday, a total of 545 wild carnivorous animals had been tested for the deadly disease and 131 wild Formosan ferret-badgers were found to have been infected, as well as one Asian house shrew and a pet dog that had been bitten by a rabies-infected ferret-badger.

Rabies infections have been reported in 49 townships and districts across nine counties and municipalities in central, southern and eastern Taiwan.

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