It sounds like a scene from a horror movie: injecting rabies into beagle puppies and watching as they succumb to one of the most miserable of diseases. This isn't fiction. It's a cruel experiment that is real and imminent. The Taiwanese Council of Agriculture wants to test whether a new strain of rabies will spread from ferret-badgers to dogs. It aims to inject rabies into at least 14 puppies, and it is hoping that the world will turn a blind eye to this awful experiment.
It is already well-known that rabies can infect warm-blooded animals. The Physicians Committee has come out four-square against the experiments, saying that we should accept as a given that dogs can acquire rabies. The new tests will prove nothing.
Still, the Taiwan experimenters plan to proceed. Already knowing that the infected beagle puppies will succumb to rabies, the experimenters will stand by as the puppies begin to twitch and writhe, eventually becoming paralyzed and ultimately die.
But putting beagles through this agony will not shed new light on the virus. In fact, 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.
On the other hand, there are many papers that first vaccinated dogs for rabies and then used a humanely-obtained blood sample from those animals to test whether they'd developed protective antibodies to the virus. It's what the COA should do to prevent the beagle puppies from dying a gruesome death from rabies.
An ounce of prevention is also crucial in preventing rabies outbreaks. Rabies experts agree that vaccinating not only domestic animals--but wildlife, too--is the best way to prevent the spread of rabies. Oral vaccination of wildlife has been successful for decades in Europe and the United States.
World Rabies Day is Sept. 28. If the Taiwanese government truly wants to avert a public health crisis, it should begin an aggressive rabies vaccination campaign and ask all citizens of Taiwan to vaccinate their dogs and other animals by World Rabies Day.