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.


Bill Gates-backed accelerator fund grants $20 million for coronavirus research

Updated 31 March 2020

Bill Gates-backed accelerator fund grants $20 million for coronavirus research

DUBAI: Hopes are being raised that the coronavirus would be understood better and a cure could be developed sooner after three institution were awarded grants by COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a large-scale initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and Mastercard to speed the development of and access to therapies for the virus.

The $20 million grant to three institutions – the University of Washington, University of Oxford, and La Jolla Institute for Immunology – would fund clinical trials to identify highly potent immunotherapies for the COVID-19 pandemic, the first investments to come from the initiative.

There are currently no broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies available to prevent or treat COVID-19.

“These grants to leading institutions in their fields will advance our understanding of how existing drugs and antibodies can contribute to addressing the pandemic we’re facing around the world,” said Mark Suzman, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“These initial investments through the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will bring rigor to the study of these potential solutions. The way forward will be informed by sound science and shared data.”

The Accelerator’s initial funding was subsequently beefed after the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative committed $25 million and the UK government committed £40 million last week.

Two of the newly announced trials will fund an investigation of two well-established drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, that have known antiviral properties and have been used to treat malaria and a variety of rheumatological conditions for more than 50 years.

The trials aim to determine whether the drugs are effective as pre- and post-exposure preventive therapy for coronavirus, a statement said.

While these drugs both show initial promise, rigorous scientific evidence is needed to make decisions on how, where and within which populations to use them in this pandemic, it added.

The University of Washington will conduct a multi-site clinical trial in Western Washington and the New York City area, in collaboration with New York University’s School of Medicine, to determine whether hydroxychloroquine can effectively prevent COVID-19 in people already exposed to the infection.

The trial will enroll up to 2,000 asymptomatic men and women who are close contacts of persons with confirmed or pending coronavirus diagnoses.

The Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit meanwhile will lead a placebo-controlled prophylaxis study of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in preventing COVID-19 in at-risk health care workers, frontline staff, and other high-risk groups.

At least 40,000 participants in Asia and Europe will be randomized to receive either chloroquine (East Asian countries), hydroxychloroquine (United Kingdom and Europe), or a matched film-coated placebo as daily prophylaxis for three months.

In addition to funding drug trials, the Accelerator will provide $1.73 million to the La Jolla Institute for Immunology to establish a Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, known as CoVIC.

The effort will bring together scientists from around the world and enable them to share and evaluate candidate antibodies side by side in a blinded, multidisciplinary analysis to identify ideal therapeutic combinations.

Antibody therapies can be used to protect frontline health care workers, contacts, and others who are exposed, as well as treat those who have already become sick.