Researchers from the University of Hong Kong said that a 56-year-old man has been detected with the disease that was previously not known to be passed from rats to humans.
Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong said, “Previous laboratory experiments have found that rat hepatitis E virus cannot be transmitted to monkeys, and human hepatitis A virus cannot be transmitted to rats,” explaining that when it comes to disease susceptibility, monkeys are the closest to humans.
During a news conference, he also said that the possibility of rat hepatitis E infestation in humans has been underestimated.
The man contracted the disease after he underwent a liver transplant following chronic infection with hepatitis B. With no obvious case, the patient continued to exhibit symptoms of abnormal liver function.
Further researches showed signs of an immune response to hepatitis, which serves as a major cause of viral hepatitis in humans worldwide, he said. But when tested for the human form of the virus, the results were negative.
The man was given antiviral treatment as the genetic sequencing of the virus that infected the man revealed similarities with the rat form of the disease.
Sridhar said, “The patient is cured, as of this stage we can no longer detect the virus in any clinical specimen.”
The team was curious about how the disease crossed over from rats into a human and the human too contracted the disease from vermin infesting a refuse bin near his home.
Sridhar explained, “Rat hepatitis E virus now joins this list of infections as an important pathogen that may be transmitted from rats to humans.”
The team suggests that the best control measure is to ensure that there is no rubbish for rats to feed on and to limit the rat population.
Martin Hibberd, professor in emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said it is “highly unlikely” that the virus could have been transmitted between humans. However, Mr Hibberd is not involved in the case.
The patient’s immune system was found in the middle ground as he had recently undergone a living transplant, making him more susceptible to contracting infections. Hibberd told a leading news channel, “Most people are not so that means it’s probably not common, generally, in humans.”
He further added, “As most people would not look for this virus, we don’t have standard tests yet.”
“This example of it actually occurring means that we probably should start looking more for it, especially in immunocompromised people. The virus seems to be relatively diverse which suggests that it’s existed for a long time.”
Hepatitis results in inflammation of the liver caused by various viruses. Most ordinarily, hepatitis A, B and C proliferate via contaminated water and food or blood and other body fluids, depending on the virus.
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. It resulted in around 44,000 deaths in 2015, making up 3.3% of all deaths from viral hepatitis.
The animal form of the disease is said to infect deer, domestic pigs, and wild boars and also rats and other rodents.