Japan may be on brink of rabies epidemic
Suddenly, around the turn of the century, Japan became a nation of dog lovers. Some attribute the boom to a television commercial that featured an irresistibly cute Chihuahua. The national transformation that followed is impossible to miss. In Japan, dogs, most of them toy-sized (or infant-sized), outnumber small children.
Whether you find that cute or repulsive is a matter of taste. Either way, chances are you don’t find it dangerous. You may be wrong. Weekly Playboy (Oct 14) fears Japan may be on the brink of a rabies epidemic.
There’s no sign of one yet, it’s only fair to note. But in July in Taiwan three bear corpses were found, and the cause of death was rabies. In September, a Weekly Playboy journalist visiting Taipei found the city in something of a rabies panic. No dogs were visible in the city – a dramatic departure from local normality. Most pet shops were shuttered. The few that weren’t had suspended dog sales and were conducting disinfection.
Rabies in humans is caused by bites from an infected dog, cat, hamster or other small mammal. Dogs are the most frequent culprit. The first known human case goes back some 4,000 years. Rabies is a very slow-traveling virus. If you’re bitten on the foot, the virus will take some three years to reach the brain. You’ll have long forgotten the bite – but by then it’s too late for treatment. You’re doomed. Untreated, once it reaches the brain the disease is nearly always fatal.
Japan, so far as is known, has been rabies-free since 1957. An effective vaccine against it was developed a century ago. The virus is not only slow but weak – it dies in air, and even a good washing with soap is more likely than not to kill it.
Why worry, then? Perhaps there’s no reason to. But the Taiwan scare let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, reminding Weekly Playboy of worst-case scenarios that sometimes do come true. Worldwide, rabies kills 55,000 people a year, making it “one of mankind’s worst enemies.”
And Asia is the epicenter. China and India lead the world in rabies deaths. China is home to 150 million dogs, and 2,000 people a year there die of rabies – so far as is known; the actual figure is assumed to be much higher.
Japan’s dogs number roughly 13 million. A huge industry has grown up around them. It includes dog hotels, dog cafes, dog spas, dog massage parlors, dog fur salons, dog insurance, nursing care for elderly dogs, and so on and so on. Pets pampered to this degree can’t possibly pose a health risk – can they? You’d be surprised, Weekly Playboy says, noting that only 40% of dogs in Japan have been inoculated against rabies.