Spooked by SARS, China kills dogs to fight rabies & “scare the monkeys”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2003:
BEIJING–“Beijing has no more Severe Acute Respiratory
Syndrome patients,” city deputy health chief Liang Wannian told the
People’s Daily on July 29.
Hu Jintao, President of China, one day earlier lauded the
Communist Party leadership for eradicating SARS–nine months, more
than 8,500 cases worldwide, and at least 789 deaths after the
disease first appeared among food workers in Beijing and Guangdong.
About half of the cases and deaths came in mainland China, with
nearly 300 more deaths in Hong Kong. SARS also hit hard in Taiwan
and Vietnam, afflicting people in more than 30 nations altogether.
Other informed observers were critical of the Chinese government
response, as well as increasingly skeptical that Chinese authorities
have the will to enforce the complete shutdowns of wildlife
trafficking and live meat markets that could ensure no repetition of
the SARS outbreak and the economically devastating ensuing panic.
“It is now evident,” editorialized the moderators of the
ProMed online information network maintained by the International
Society for Infectious Diseases, “that China’s suppression of news
about SARS helped fuel a global epidemic that could have been
controlled more quickly, with fewer casualties and much less
economic damage, if news of the outbreak had been reported rapidly
and fully to the world.”
Whether Chinese leaders had learned any of the evident
lessons from SARS came into question when on July 17 the Guangdong
provincial forestry department lifted a two-month ban on trade and
transportation of more than 40 wild animal species commonly sold at
live markets, including palm civets, the apparent primary hosts of
the coronavirus that causes SARS.
“I do not know why they made that kind of decision. I think
it is a mistake,” Hong Kong University microbiologist Guan Yi told
Mary Ann Benitez and Yi Hu of the South China Morning Post. Guan was
on the team whose research identified SARS in six palm civets, a
honey badger, and a tanuki (raccoon dog) obtained from Guangzhou
Prohibitions on selling snakes, bears, pangolins, or their
body parts remained at least temporarily in effect.
“The Guangzhou Centre for Public Opinion Research recorded
88.8% support for a selective ban on wildlife consumption after
interviewing 4,036 people in 11 cities across the province,” wrote
Benitez and Yi Hu. “One third were in favor of a total ban,” even
though more than half had eaten wildlife.”
But aware that wildlife trafficking for meat employs an
estimated 3,000 people in Guangzhou alone, the People’s Congress of
Guangdong on July 25 shied away from passing a proposed resolution
against any consumption of wildlife. Instead, after much debate,
the People’s Congress only recommended by a vote of 53-11 that
“People should give up their habits of eating wild animals and not
eat wild animals without quarantine and with easily spread diseases,
or other wildlife under legal protection.”
In other words, the People’s Congress merely suggested that
laws existing before the SARS outbreak should be obeyed.
The People’s Congress apparently took no note of a projection
published a day earlier in the British journal Nature that up to 20%
of the wildlife species in Southeast Asia are in jeopardy of
extinction due to habitat loss and human consumption.
Barry Brook of Northern Territory University in Australia
based the projection on documented species losses in Singapore since
British scientists first began species inventories in 1819. Wildlife
consumption declined in Singapore only after the destruction of more
than 95% of the local wildlife habitat markedly reduced the abundance
of species deemed edible. Brook identified similar trends occurring
now in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand–all currently
major exporters of wildlife to the Chinese live markets.
While public officials were seemingly incapable of standing
up to pressure from live marketers and their clients, they were
still able to bludgeon dogs and alleged dissidents. Purges of dogs
and dissidents have typically come together in China at least since
1949, and probably earlier, since the common Chinese phrase “Kill
the dog to scare the monkey” dates back centuries.
Reporters Without Borders identified 117 people from 17
provinces who were arrested for allegedly circulating SARS-related
rumors between February and May 2003, as word about the extent and
nature of the outbreak trickled back into China from the other
nations into which the disease spread.
Not clear was whether any of the people in custody had done
anything other than try to identify and fight the epidemic. The
International Society for Infectious Diseases asked the Chinese
government “to immediately and unconditionally release any people
imprisoned for trying to get the news on SARS out.”
The Ministry of Health disclosed on July 17 that rabies
rather than SARS was the deadliest infectious disease at large in
China during the first half of 2003.
“In six months, 490 of 545 people who caught rabies died,”
South China Morning Post Beijing correspondent Josephine Ma reported.
The same statistic appeared again a week later in a report from
Guangzhou correspondent Leu Siew Ying.
Left unanswered was what became of the other 55 people who
purportedly contracted the inevitably fatal disease, which normally
kills victims within just a few days of the symptoms appearing.
Mass vaccination has been globally recognized as the only
effective response to rabies for more than 30 years. The World
Health Organization has warned since 1973 that trying to fight rabies
by killing host species is futile, and can even increase the risk of
exposure if people approach potential host animals they might
otherwise never encounter.
Nonetheless, as Guangdong health officials in particular
came under criticism for ineptly responding to SARS, they ordered
that all dogs in rabies areas be killed within a week, and banned
imports of dogs for a year.
“Media reports said that in Mao-ming, where there were 32
confirmed cases of rabies, 6,850 dogs were killed. In Lianjiang,
where there were eight cases, 52,614 dogs were killed,” Leu Siew
Ying wrote. Through-out Guangdong, rabies reportedly killed 74
people between January 1 and June 30.
The Xinhua news agency reported on August 5 that more than
10,000 people had been organized to hunt stray dogs, including 4,000
in Maoming, where the human death rose to 41 through July. The
account said 18,946 dogs were killed in July alone, raising the
known toll to nearly 80,000.
Rabies & dog meat
“Rabies killed thousands of people in Guangdong during the
1980s,” Leu Siew Ying wrote, “but was largely eradicated by 1996.
The rise in cases has corresponded with an increase in the number of
people keeping dogs as pets. Rabies also spread because of
substandard vaccines and improper treatment of dog bites. Some
reports have said 18% of the dogs in Guangdong carry the disease.”
Unmentioned was that the rise in rabies cases also
corresponded with an enormous affluence-enabled increase in both
wildlife consumption and in raising dogs and cats for slaughter,
typically in grossly unhygienic conditions. While overall the
numbers of people who eat wildlife, dogs, and cats in China are
believed to be declining, those who do eat them are now able to buy
far more than they could before 1996.
The numbers of dogs killed, far higher than reported in
previous Chinese dog purges, hinted that the authorities might be
depopulating some facilities involved in the dog meat trade, as well
as exterminating street dogs and pets, but no one explicitly said so.
Animal Rescue Association president Wu Tianyu told a
gathering of the China Small Animal Protection Association on July 25
that the dog purge had spread to Tianjin, Wuhan, Najing, Suzhou,
Wu Tianyu “said that she had called the Health Ministry to complain
that the figure cited by the Guangdong health department of 18% of
dogs being rabid was inaccurate,” Leu Siew Ying reported.
“I asked them where they got their figures,” Wu Tianyu said.
“I told them that those figures were based on a study done in 1990.
I asked them if they had done any other study before ordering the
killing. They hung up on me,” she recounted.
Commented the ProMed moderators, “It might be more
constructive and effective to implement compulsory canine vaccination
and to control wildlife rabies using baited vaccine, rather than
resorting to the destruction of stray dogs and [post-exposure] vaccination of the human population in high-risk areas.”
Beijing officials on July 28 began an effort to vaccinate all
dogs in the city against rabies, and all pigs against Japanese
encephalitis, according to China Daily. Beijing also cut the fee
for legally registering a pet dog in half, hoping to increase
licensing and vaccination compliance. Currently there are only
140,000 licenced dogs in Beijing, of an estimated population of 1.4
million, wrote Alice Yan of the South China Morning Post.
The pig vaccinations were necessitated, according to Agence
France-Press, after “An encephalitis outbreak in Guangdong began in
April, so far killing 27 people from 310 confirmed infections,
according to the latest official statistics.”
Japanese encephalitis is typically spread by a mosquito
species whose eggs hatch in pig wastes.
Bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis were discovered in
Guangdong in late July– the fourth and fifth major zoonotic disease
outbreaks to hit the province in less than a year.
Officials responded to the bovine TB episode by closing the
Guangzhou Yunyan Cattle Farm for a 90-day quarantine, killing all
400 resi dent cows. Inspections were increased in response to
brucellosis. Infected cattle were to be killed immediately.
The bovine TB and brucellosis eradication procedures were similar to
those used in the U.S., which are considered obsolete by some
zoonotic disease experts.