HONG KONG – The world’s first human case of the rat version of the hepatitis E virus has been identified in Hong Kong, according to new research from one of the city’s leading universities.
The disease was found in a 56-year-old man who repeatedly produced abnormal liver function tests following his liver transplant.
Researchers believe he may have contracted the illness through food infected by rat droppings, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
He is now recovering after being treated for the virus, the newspaper said.
There had been no evidence until now that the disease could go from rats to humans, and the finding is of “major public health significance”, the University of Hong Kong said.
“This study conclusively proves for the first time in the world that rat HEV can infect humans to cause clinical infection,” it said.
Rat hepatitis E virus is very distantly related to human hepatitis E virus variants, the researchers say.
The human version of hepatitis E is usually spread through contaminated drinking water. It is a liver disease that affects 20 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.
It is usually spread through contaminated drinking water.
Symptoms of the human strain of hepatitis E include jaundice and sometimes tiredness, fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Most people will get over the virus, although for some, such as those with an immune deficiency disorder or pregnant women, it can prove fatal.