In Chinese astrological circles, the Year of the Rat (which starts on Saturday) is commonly considered to be a very good year, bringing with it great opportunities and success stemming from rats’ purported perseverance and innate cleverness.
By the estimation of just about everyone else, however, rats are a seething, black plague of mangy fur and beady eyes, just waiting to get a leg up on humanity so they can take over the planet with their fellow survivors and partners in disgusting crime, the cockroaches.
In an effort to forestall that apocalyptic scenario, Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department launched a six month operation last year that resulted in the capture of 10,114 rats, and the filling in of 5,344 rat holes. Now, following a consultation with a British expert last year, authorities are studying the possibility of bringing new technology — such as heat sensors and AI — to bear in the ongoing war on rats, FEHD Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee wrote in her blog this week.
“The expert acknowledged that Hong Kong already has a comprehensive system in preventing and monitoring rodent infestation. The current measures are effective, which just require fine adjustments in terms of execution, such as the location of the rodenticides and baits,” she said.
“We were also advised to enhance monitoring using heat sensors and night-vision lenses.”
The new technology will help authorities track down the entrances and exits of rodent nests, as well as areas where rats often appear. The information would allow the department to adjust the location of rodenticides and traps so as to improve their effectiveness.
Chan added that the number of rats caught and holes plugged last year represented a 40 percent rise from 2018. The department last year also assisted the Housing Authority in installing over 6,500 rat traps in public housing estates, and held more than 170 anti-rodent seminars for residents.
In fact, since 2000, the government has tracked rodent infestation rates for the city’s 18 districts. As of the first half of 2019, the Islands, Wan Chai, Kwun Tong, and Tsuen Wan districts had the highest rat burden.
But rats aren’t merely gross nuisances: a 17-year-old boy died last month due to liver failure after testing positive for rat hepatitis last August.
Hong Kong is ground zero for rat hepatitis, with the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of medicine discovering in 2018 the first human in the world to be infected with hepatitis E, which had previously only been found in rats. Since then, at least nine cases have confirmed across the SAR.
Secretary Chan said in her post that despite hepatitis E being a curable illness, it can cause serious complications to high-risk patients, including those with chronic diseases.