A man in Hong Kong is the first human to become infected with a type of hepatitis E infection that's only been seen in rats.
Doctors noticed the man, from Kowloon, had fallen sick and suffered abnormal liver function following a liver transplant.
It was said to be a discovery of "major public health significance", since there have been no documented cases of the infection being spread from rats to human beings until now.
Image: There were signs of a rat infestation outside the patient's home.
The university said rat HEV is only distantly related to strains of hepatitis E which more commonly affect humans. The virus can cause deadly liver failure in humans.
Further tests showed the patient was carrying a species of hepatitis virus that until then was known to be present only in animals, such as rats.
"We postulate that contamination of food by infected rat droppings in the food supply is possible", HKU researchers said.
Hepatitis E is less common in developed countries because people most often catch it from drinking contaminated water or eating food containing the virus. "For these kinds of rare infections, unusual infections, even one case is enough to make public health authorities and researchers very alert about the implications of the disease". To the transplanted organ, "stuck", the man used immunosuppressants.
But, as of May 2018, there was not a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved hepatitis E vaccine.
The animal form of the disease is said to infect deer, domestic pigs, and wild boars and also rats and other rodents.
Many people clearly have hepatitis, based on their symptoms, but they test negative on all the human strains known to exist, Adalja said.
In 2015, human hepatitis E killed 44,000 people.
It has prompted fears that the virus could signal an impending outbreak in the Chinese city, which has been plagued by rodent problems due to long hot spells this summer.
The human form of hepatitis E is generally transmitted through contaminated water and is guesstimated to infest 20 million people worldwide, consequential of 3.3 million people showing symptoms each year as per the World Health Organization.
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