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This Rat Disease Has Infected a Human for the First Time

The case happened in Hong Kong
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2018 4:22 PM CDT
Graffiti artwork of a rat is seen on a wall in Toronto.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

(Newser) – For the first time ever, a strain of hepatitis E that heretofore only affected rats and ferrets has infected a human. The case occurred in Hong Kong, where a 56-year-old man living in public housing contracted the disease, the South China Morning Post reports. It's a "wake-up call," said Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at Hong Kong University, during a press conference. "We don't know if in the future there will be a serious outbreak of the rat hepatitis E virus in Hong Kong. We need to closely monitor this issue." Now health officials are calling for stepped-up rodent control, and that means cleaning up the streets and alleys which, per Yuen, "are very dirty with lots of rubbish. You can see rats that are bigger than cats." He said that public cleanliness improved after the Sars outbreak in 2003, but has since gone downhill again.

Doctors say the patient who contracted the so-called rat hepatitis is now cured, CNN reports. He had the disease after having a liver transplant last year. Still showing signs of abnormal liver function—doctors had ruled out infection from blood or liver donors—the man was tested for the human form of hepatitis E. Those tests were negative, prompting doctors to perform genetic sequencing of the virus, leading to the determination that it was the form of hepatitis that is present in rats. Researchers think the man may have been infected after eating food contaminated with rat droppings or by possibly being bitten by a rat. The rat hepatitis E virus, discovered in Germany in 2010, has been found in rodents throughout the world, including the US, per the New York Times. (Read more Hong Kong stories.)

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