World’s first human case of rat disease found in Hong Kong

Rodent problems in Hong Kong have escalated in recent months because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2018

World’s first human case of rat disease found in Hong Kong

  • There had previously been no evidence the disease could jump from rats to humans
  • Rodent problems in Hong Kong have escalated in recent months because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong man has developed the world’s first ever human case of the rat version of the hepatitis E virus, according to new research from one of the city’s leading universities.
There had previously been no evidence the disease could jump from rats to humans, the University of Hong Kong said Friday, warning the discovery had “major public health significance.”
“This study conclusively proves for the first time in the world that rat HEV can infect humans to cause clinical infection,” the university added.
Rat hepatitis E virus is very distantly related to human hepatitis E virus variants, HKU said.
The disease was found in a 56-year-old man who persistently produced abnormal liver function tests following a liver transplant.
He could have contracted the illness through food infected by rat droppings, researchers said, according to details of the findings reported in the South China Morning Post.
The man lived in a housing estate where there were signs of rat infestation outside his home. He is now recovering after being treated for the virus, the SCMP added.
The human version of hepatitis E is a liver disease that affects 20 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.
It is usually spread through contaminated drinking water.
Symptoms include fever, vomiting and jaundice, and in rare cases liver failure.
Rodent problems in Hong Kong have escalated in recent months because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather.
Hong Kong has been hit hard by disease outbreaks in the past.
In 2003, almost 300 people died from SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The bubonic plague, carried by rats, swept through mainland China and Hong Kong in the late 19th century killing thousands.


How tech is helping to beat the virus lockdown blues

Updated 10 April 2020

How tech is helping to beat the virus lockdown blues

  • Norwegian startup tackles isolation among the elderly — at the push of a button

OSLO: Widower Per Leif Rolid lives alone on his farm, a two-hour drive from Oslo. His sense of isolation has mounted with the coronavirus pandemic, but a simple screen is helping him stay in touch — without requiring any computer know-how.

Rolid, 87, has never owned a computer, smartphone or tablet. But that has not stopped him from getting messages, photos and video calls from his grandchildren scattered around the world.

The secret? A screen that looks like a mix between an old-fashioned television and radio, placed next to his TV.

There is no keyboard, login or password. And there is just one button to turn the machine on and adjust the volume, like an old-fashioned radio. On the other end, relatives can take a few minutes out of their day to contact the family patriarch via an app.

“I can see them while talking to them. I keep in touch with family at home and abroad, on travels. I feel like I can be with my family all the time,” Rolid says with a smile.

The tech revolution that has changed our daily lives in so many ways has left parts of the population behind.

According to a study carried out by the British Red Cross, more than 9 million adults in Britain feel lonely, including 4 million of those aged 55 and over.

In Norway, 35 percent of people over the age of 67 live alone.

That feeling of isolation risks being aggravated by confinement measures during the coronavirus outbreak, as older people are told to avoid physical contact with
others since they are most at risk.

According to psychologist and physiologist Christopher Lien, the added isolation is “particularly regrettable.”

“Lots of old people have quite a small social network and if you add weeks of social isolation to that, it’s clear that for a lot of them this network becomes even smaller,” he said.

“In the worst cases, they can end up feeling disoriented in space and time. They lose their bearings when they can’t get together in their nursing home or have visits from friends and family.”

The virus crisis could give a boost to tech companies developing products to bridge the gap between generations, with analogue people on one end and their digital-savvy counterparts on the other.

The global market for such machines — known as telepresence robots — could rise by 20 to 35 percent this year because of coronavirus, and could hit $400 million, according to Lian Jye Su, tech analyst at ABI Research.

The screen used by Per Leif Rolid on his farm in Redalen was made by Norwegian startup No Isolation, which specializes in using technology to tackle loneliness among vulnerable groups.

“We know that this is not something that exclusively happens during a pandemic, but it became clear that this harms the most vulnerable first and the hardest,” said No Isolation CEO Karen Dolva.

“All of a sudden the families realized that we have to take them online,” noting that “granddad doesn’t have to be digital to
be online.”

The screen, called Komp, “becomes like their window to the family in the day-to-day life.”