Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

World's first human case of rat disease found in HK

World's first human case of rat disease found in HK

"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", Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, said.

The man developed the disease after undergoing a liver transplant following chronic infection with hepatitis B. He continued to show signs of abnormal liver function, said Sridhar, with no obvious cause. "This study conclusively proves for the first time in the world that rat hepatitis E virus (HEV) can infect humans to cause clinical infection", the researchers stated.

"We don't know if in future there will be a serious outbreak of the rat hepatitis E virus in Hong Kong", he said.

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

The risk of rat hepatitis E affecting humans has been underestimated, Sridhar said during a news conference.

It was only when the virus was genetically sequenced that doctors found similarities with the rodent strain.

The rat variation of hepatitis E was discovered in 2010 in Germany, researchers said.

"We postulate that contamination of food by infected rat droppings in the food supply is possible", they added, stating that the route of transmission of the virus was not clearly established. But it's a different story for pregnant women, for whom hepatitis E infection has a mortality rate between 10 and 30 per cent during the third trimester.

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This hepatitis E case emerged when a patient had undergone a liver transplant on May 14th at HKU's teaching hospital Queen Mary, reports SCMP news.

Symptoms include fever, vomiting and jaundice, and in rare cases liver failure.

Many people clearly have hepatitis, based on their symptoms, but they test negative on all the human strains known to exist, Adalja said.

Officials said the man's health improved after the condition was identified and he received antiviral treatment.

It is usually spread through contaminated drinking water. It was not previously known the disease could be passed from rats to humans.

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

An estimated 20 million people are infected with hepatitis E every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Hepatitis E is a major health threat in developing countries in Africa and Asia and in the past has been contracted from eating undercooked pork and deer meat.

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