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World’s first human case of rat disease discovered

01 October 2018

Researchers in Hong Kong have announced the first known human case of rat hepatitis E.

Doctors don't think the man got the virus from another human; the liver donor and the people who donated blood to the man all tested negative for the virus.

Previously, there was no evidence that rat hepatitis E, a variants of the virus affecting mammals, was transmittable to humans.

"Infectious diseases ... can spread from rats to humans easily", said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who was not involved with the patient's case.

During a news conference, he also said that the possibility of rat hepatitis E infestation in humans has been underestimated.

Hepatitis E in rats has a different genetic signature than the human strain, so it's probably not something that routine testing can detect, Adalja said.

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

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 BBC reports.

A year ago researchers from Oxford University first demonstrated that hepatitis B virus is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

The animal form of the disease is said to infect deer, domestic pigs, and wild boars and also rats and other rodents. He had the disease after having a liver transplant a year ago.

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

The man is said to be recovering.

Most human cases of hepatitis E, which typically causes mild symptoms including nausea and diarrhea, resolve themselves within six weeks, but they can be more serious for patients with weakened immune systems.

The World Health Organization estimates that the human variation of hepatitis E infects 20 million people each year, most commonly in East and South Asia.

Rodent problems in Hong Kong have escalated in recent months because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather.

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

In densely populated areas like Hong Kong, "infections that jump from animals to humans must be taken very seriously", Sridhar said.

World’s first human case of rat disease discovered