Article on page 5 of the Hong Kong Telegraph, 1904-12-30:
FIGHTING THE PLAGUE MICROBE.
The importance of maintaining a thoroughly efficient and well-equipped bacteriological institute is well recognised among the, medical profession in the East and the numerous visits of eminent medical men to Hongkong, Singapore and the Far East generally have given a stimulus to the subject. The ordinary lay member may not always see the force of these research movements especially when it is remembered that doctors themselves, almost as a matter of professional pride, are determined to disagree. However, Hongkong has so long been tormented by plague visitations that anything which promises to reveal the first symptoms in the Colony and especially to eradicate the pest will be heartily welcomed. At present the Government, or rather the Public Works Department, are engaged in the erection of a new bacteriological institute where experiments will be conducted and infected cases investigated. It will be nine months yet before the institute is ready for occupation, and in the meantime all research is being carried out at the new buildings which were recently completed at Hill Street and taken possession of practically without comment.
In the future when the institute is occupied the buildings in Hill Street will be reserved for morgue purposes, but in the meantime all the work of Dr. Hunter, the bacteriologist in Hongkong, and his Chinese stuff, is centred there. Like all Government buildings it is plain to the point of severity. There is not a piece of ornamental work about it; the hand of the utilitarian is everywhere visible. But a short walk over the structure shows that it is admirably fitted for the purpose to which it will soon be exclusively devoted.
There are two large chambers which have been set apart as the mortuary. Each chamber has sixteen slate tables, and all the appliances necessary for such a place are installed. The windows are covered from top to bottom with a very finely-strung gauze. The walls are laid with white sanitary bricks and round the rooms is a water channel. There is not a corner, properly speaking, in the chamber, so that dirt can effect no lodgement. Besides each of the rooms is thoroughly cleansed and disinfected from top to bottom daily. The floors are of concrete, and the walks round the entire range of buildings are cemented and fitted with water channels. Indeed, the place is a model of cleanliness.
SEARCHING FOR PLAGUE SYMPTOMS.
Two of the tables, when the pressman went round the buildings the other day, were covered with dead rats of all sizes. They had been operated on with the object of finding out whether there was any infectious disease about the Colony and they lay there waiting the result. Every day in the year, special men are catching rats in every district of the city. Now and then a rat is killed in the public street and even it is sent to the mortuary. A label is attached to its tail, showing when and where it was killed and then the bacteriologist comes in. Should the slightest evidence of plague, cholera or other contagious disease appear in the heart or spleen, the place whence the rat showing these symptoms came, is disinfected outside and in. "What happens when a rat is killed in an open space, and that rat is found to be infected ?" The answer was that nothing could be done, except to keep a stricter lookout for further signs of disease in the vermin brought from houses.
It is a canon that when disease is about to appear in the city, it first makes itself known through the medium of rats. How these rats have contracted the disease, whether they have come from infected ports like Canton, say, and managed to escape ashore, it is impossible to say. But once the disease is seen, then the authorities start in to work ; the rats of Hongkong are like railway fog signals, or weather forecasts - indeed, they are rather more reliable than the clerk of the weather as a rule. A mortuary, even if it be also a place of research, is, of course, hardly a pleasant place to view. With its dead chambers, its cellars for coffins, and so forth it forms a somewhat grisly subject. Coming to the other rooms, one is occupied with a full set, or what will be in a short time a complete outfit, of bacteriological appliances. What is at present the office where Dr. Hunter is usually engaged, is also filled with evidences of re-search, including the inevitable tubes full of living bacteria.
As already stated, the buildings are spotlessly clean, as they doubtless have to be, and have been constructed on the most modern principles. Dr. Hunter is assisted by several trained Chinese in his ordinary work, which leaves him a modicum of time for his purely scientific labours. The place is situated up a steep hill, and is entirely clear of any buildings for a considerable distance on either side. As for the new institute which is in course of construction, it will be one of the most efficient in this part of the world, but it is too early yet for a detailed account of it, only a vague idea of its proportions and appearance being as yet obtainable.