Taiwan orders human vaccine as rabies resurfaces

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has ordered tens of thousands of vaccine doses to protect people against the island’s first rabies outbreak in more than 50 years.

Health officials have struggled to contain the Taiwan outbreak since July 17, when a ferret badger in the southern part of the island was confirmed as rabid. Since then, 17 more ferret badger cases have been confirmed, and the case of a rabid Asian house shrew reported Wednesday indicates the disease is jumping species. No humans or dogs have yet been involved in the outbreak.

Health Minister Chiu-Wen-ta says the new human vaccine doses are expected to arrive Friday and will supplement some 3,000 in stock.

Health workers have been vaccinating animals in central and southern Taiwan to try to control the outbreak. The island currently has some 40,000 animal-use dosages in stock, with an additional half million expected by Aug. 20.

Rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals. It can spread from one species to another, usually through bites. If untreated, it is fatal.

Before last month, Taiwan’s last reported rabies case was in 1959. A dog bit a farmer, whose wife became infected after washing the farmer’s rabies-tainted clothing; the farmer himself did not contract the disease.

Now, the only jurisdictions world health officials consider rabies-free are Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, and Guam.

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