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World's first human case of rat disease discovered in Hong Kong

Rat hepatitis E was found in a 56-year-old man who persistently produced abnormal liver function tests.

A model of the hepatitis virus
A model of the hepatitis virus
Image: Shutterstock/Kateryna Kon

A HONG KONG man has developed the world’s first ever human case of the rat version of the hepatitis E virus, according to new research from one of the city’s universities. 

According to the University of Hong Kong, there had previously been no evidence that the disease could jump from rats to humans and the discovery has “major public health significance”. 

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

Rat hepatitis E virus is very distantly related to human hepatitis E virus variants, HKU said.

However, the disease was found in a 56-year-old man who persistently produced abnormal liver function tests following a liver transplant.

It’s believed the man may have contracted the illness through food infected by rat droppings, according to details of the findings reported in the South China Morning Post. 

The man lived in a housing estate where there were signs of rat infestation outside his home, but is now recovering after being treated for the virus, the SCMP added. 

The human version of hepatitis E is a liver disease that affects 20 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation. 

It is usually spread through contaminated drinking water. 

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

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

© – AFP 2018

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