First human diagnosed with rat disease in China

Grant Boone
October 1, 2018

The world's first human case of rat disease has been discovered in Hong Kong.

A 56-year-old man in Hong Kong is the first person worldwide to have a certain strain of hepatitis E that was previously found only in rats. "Rat hepatitis E virus now joins this list of infections as an important pathogen that may be transmitted from rats to humans", said Sridhar.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted there was a possibility that hepatitis E could be spread from animals to humans but via foodborne infection from the consumption of uncooked or undercooked meat from infected animals.

The man lived in a housing estate where there were signs of rat infestation outside his home.

Doctors had a strain of the hepatitis E virus, which can cause deadly liver failure. Martin Hibberd, professor in emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said it is "very unlikely" that the virus could be transmitted between humans. "The patient is cured, as of this stage we can no longer detect the virus in any clinical specimen", said Sridhar.

"We postulate that contamination of food by infected rat droppings in the food supply is possible", the researchers said.

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Hepatitis E is less common in developed countries because people most often catch it from drinking contaminated water or eating food containing the virus. "Doctors later found that he had a strain of hepatitis that was "highly divergent" from other strains found in humans".

The symptoms of hepatitis are typically mild and can include fever, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin), the CDC says.

Hepatitis results in inflammation of the liver caused by various viruses.

The animal form has been found in pigs, wild boar and deer as well as rats. The Hong Kong patient's immune system was compromised, given he had recently undergone a liver transplant, putting him at higher risk of contracting infections.

Officials said the man's health improved after the condition was identified and he received antiviral treatment. Most ordinarily, hepatitis A, B and C proliferate via contaminated water and food or blood and other body fluids, depending on the virus.

A sustained period of hot and humid weather has caused rodent problems in Hong Kong to escalate. According to the world health organization (who), every year, the virus infected about 20 million people.

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