Man diagnosed with world's first human case of rat disease hepatitis E

Lynette PayneOct 01, 2018

A man in Hong Kong is the first human to become infected with a type of hepatitis E infection that's only been seen in rats.

Further tests showed that he was carrying a strain of hepatitis "highly divergent" from the strain that affects humans, researchers from the University of Hong Kong said.

"This study conclusively proves for the first time in the world that rat HEV can infect humans to cause clinical infection", it said.

"Previous laboratory experiments have found that rat hepatitis E virus can not be transmitted to monkeys, and human hepatitis A virus can not be transmitted to rats", said Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, explaining that monkeys are very close to humans when it comes to disease susceptibility.

But one man's infection isn't necessarily a sign of an onslaught of rat-mediated hepatitis infections to come.

Symptoms of the human strain of hepatitis E include jaundice and sometimes tiredness, fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

"If this happened in a person who wasn't a liver transplant patient, you can have more basis to speculate" about mutations to the virus, he said.

Researchers think the man may have been infected after eating food contaminated with rat droppings or by possibly being bitten by a rat. Recent tests have fixed of disorders in the liver, and the following tests found hepatitis.

The virus causes hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, and can not be cured but usually heals on its own.

The virus is known to be carried by pigs, wild boar, deer, rabbits and rats but does not make them ill. Indeed, the combination of the man's compromised immune system and exposure to rat droppings could have caused this singular case, Adalja said.

An estimated 20 million people are infected with hepatitis E every year, according to the World Health Organization. It was not previously known the disease could be passed from rats to humans. Most ordinarily, hepatitis A, B and C proliferate via contaminated water and food or blood and other body fluids, depending on the virus.

Cases of HEV typically present in one of two ways, either as large outbreaks and sporadic cases in areas where HEV is endemic (genotype 1) in Asia and Africa, (genotype 2) in Mexico and West Africa and (genotype 4) in Taiwan and China or as isolated cases in developed countries (genotype 3), reports the WHO.

Rodent problem in Hong Kong has intensified this summer, when unusually high temperatures and humidity forced the rats to rise to the surface.

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