A man in Hong Kong has become the first person in the world to catch a type of hepatitis E from a rat.
Doctors discovered the man was carrying the animal strain after he experienced abnormal liver function after a liver transplant.
Yuen pointed out that this study proved for the first time in the world that rat HEV could infect humans and highlighted the importance for rodent control measures as human infection by rat HEV had never been documented previously.
"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. The man lives in a housing estate that had "evidence of rat infestation in the refuse bins", according to HKU researchers.
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. Tests for the human form of the virus came back negative.
The man is said to be recovering from the serious acute disease.
Researchers believe he may have contracted the illness through food infected by rat droppings, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
Traditionally, the HEV is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, principally via contaminated water. Doctors later found that he had a strain of hepatitis that was "highly divergent" from other strains found in humans, the BBC reports. In rare cases, it can also cause liver failure and death.
Symptoms of the human strain of hepatitis E include jaundice and sometimes tiredness, fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Rodent problems in Hong Kong have escalated in recent months because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather.
The human version of the hepatitis E virus affects 20 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Most ordinarily, hepatitis A, B and C proliferate via contaminated water and food or blood and other body fluids, depending on the virus.
He explained that, when it comes to disease susceptibility, monkeys closely resembled humans, but the risk of rat hepatitis E affecting humans was underestimated.
Hepatitis E is a major health threat in developing countries in Africa and Asia and in the past has been contracted from eating undercooked pork and deer meat.
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