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

Alicia Farmer
October 1, 2018

A 56-year-old man in Hong Kong has developed a strain of hepatitis E that normally infects rats, marking the first time it has been transferred to humans, scientists say.

Still showing signs of abnormal liver function-doctors had ruled out infection from blood or liver donors-the man was tested for the human form of hepatitis E. Those tests were negative, prompting doctors to perform genetic sequencing of the virus, leading to the determination that it was the form of hepatitis that is present in rats.

According to University of Hong Kong (HKU) researchers, it remains unclear how the patient contracted rat hepatitis E, a genetically distinct form of the virus that was previously isolated in rodents.

The researchers said that routine hepatitis E testing would have failed to identify the strain, which is significantly different from the one that typically infects humans.

Further researches showed signs of an immune response to hepatitis, which serves as a major cause of viral hepatitis in humans worldwide, he said.

Humans tend to be infected by ingesting infected faecal matter, such as drinking contaminated water or through contact with poor sanitation. "Doctors later found that he had a strain of hepatitis that was "highly divergent" from other strains found in humans".

The WHO estimates that hepatitis E caused approximately 44,000 deaths in 2015.

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The man lives in public housing in eastern Kowloon after, and officials said he went through liver transplant surgery in May and was tested for recurring liver problems.

The virus is known to be carried by pigs, wild boar, deer, rabbits and rats but does not make them ill.

The man is now recovering after being treated in hospital, the Morning Post added.

Symptoms include a high fever, nausea, jaundice and grey-coloured faeces.

There is no treatment for hepatitis but it usually clears up by itself.

In densely populated areas like Hong Kong, "infections that jump from animals to humans must be taken very seriously", Sridhar said. According to the world health organization (who), every year, the virus infected about 20 million people. The human strain of Hepatitis E is typically spread through dirty water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A sustained period of hot and humid weather has caused rodent problems in Hong Kong to escalate, multiple sources reported.

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