HK man wounded by wild monkeys critical after contracting B virus

Experts have warned against touching or feeding Hong Kong’s wild monkeys after a man wounded by macaques was left in a critical condition in the city’s first case of human B virus infection.

Monkeys in the Kam Shan Country Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

According to a Centre for Health Protection (CHP) statement issued Wednesday, the 37-year-old “with good past health” was admitted to Yan Chai Hospital on March 21 with a fever and “decreased level of consciousness,” and was receiving treatment in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

He had been wounded by wild macaques during a visit to Kam Shan Country Park – known colloquially as Monkey Mountain – in late February, the CHP added.

B virus exists naturally in the saliva, urine and stool of macaques, which are commonly found in Hong Kong. While human B virus infections remain rare globally, they can lead to severe brain damage or death without immediate treatment. The US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists B virus symptoms as flu-link, involving fever and chills, muscle ache, fatigue and headache.

According to various research, the mortality rate of an untreated B virus infection ranges from 70 to 80 per cent.

Yan Chai HospitalYan Chai Hospital
Yan Chai Hospital. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Senior Fauna Conservation Officer of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) Shek Chung-tong told RTHK on Friday that people who encounter monkeys should keep food and plastic bags in their backpacks to avoid giving the animals the impression that they were being fed.

“If they think you want to feed them … they might grab [the food] from you,” he said in Cantonese, adding that some people might be under the misconception that monkeys do not have enough food in the wild.

See also: Hong Kong seeks to impose HK$100k fine and 1 year jail time for illegal feral pigeon feeding from next Aug

The AFCD also said in a statement on Thursday that people should avoid eating in front of monkeys and avoid making direct eye contact with them.

“If any person has come into contact with a monkey or its excrement, he or she should immediately wash hands thoroughly with soap and water to maintain personal hygiene. In the event of being bitten or scratched by a monkey, immediate medical assistance should be sought,” the statement read.

Shek added that the number of monkey nuisance cases remained between 200 and 300 in the past three years – a significant reduction from the 1,000 cases logged two decades ago. He also said that 70 per cent of the 2,000 monkeys in Hong Kong had been sterilised, and that the department’s target of 80 per cent could be achieved by 2028.

Critical condition

The CHP’s Public Health Laboratory Services Branch confirmed the 37-year-old’s infection on Thursday after his cerebrospinal fluid specimen of the patient tested positive for B virus.

wild pigwild pig
An AFCD banner at a popular spot for feeding wild pigs. Photo: HKFP/Arthur Lo.

Wilson Lam of the Hong Kong Society for Infectious Diseases, also speaking on the RTHK programme, said that antiviral treatment should be administered within the first five days of contracting the virus. “The earlier the better, for any virus treatment,” he said.

Cases have been reported in the United States, Canada, the Mainland and Japan, and were mainly caused by bites or scratches by monkeys, the CHP said.

A veterinarian in China – the country’s first case of a human infection – died from the virus in 2021, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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