PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 12:00am

The elderly gentleman Chan Yat-biu who lost his companion monkey Kam Ying has every reason to be sad and melancholic.

It is also understandable that the public has reacted very strongly regarding this incident.

This is a bad case of big government against a poor, lonely old man whose only solace in life is in the comfort afforded to him by a small rhesus monkey.

Nevertheless, the law states that a licence is required for a person to keep animals whose ordinary habitat is in the wild. Though the principle behind such a law is to prevent wild animals living with humans, thus denying them the freedom they enjoy in their natural habitat, there is another reason why monkeys should not share living quarters with humans.

They may carry viruses which may be deadly to man, but harmless to them.

A simian virus called herpes B virus is common and usually harmless to monkeys but it is fatal in 70 per cent of cases involving humans. Symptoms include small blisters near the site of the infection, redness of the eyes, flu-like aches, headaches, and lack of co-ordination.

A human usually gets infected after being bitten or scratched by a monkey, but could also be infected after being sprayed by the body fluids of the monkey.

Researchers handling monkeys should wear lab coats, masks, boots, gloves and protective goggles.

Citizens who love monkeys should know that they are potentially dangerous and should not fondle them in the wild.

Anybody who is bitten or scratched by monkeys, should seek medical advice immediately.

Though there is no known treatment of the herpes B infection, there is some evidence that anti-herpes medication acyclovir could save lives under such situations.

Dr Y K LEUNG Kowloon