MAY 10, 2020 11:21 AM PDT

We Still Don't Know Why Rat Hepatitis is Turning Up in People

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Hepatitis is a term for liver inflammation, which can be caused by several different things including medications, or alcohol, while hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are viral infections. Symptoms of hepatitis can include loss of appetite, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, and jaundice: a yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Every year, the hepatitis E virus (HEV) causes around 20 million infections in humans worldwide. All of the variants of the virus that are known to infect humans are part of the Orthohepevirus A (HEV-A) species. Rats are infected by a different species that is highly divergent from HEV-A; it's called Orthohepevirus C (HEV-C).

In 2018, a study of liver transplant patients revealed unexplained persistent hepatitis in some of the participants, and the investigators screened them for HEV antibodies. Several patients were found to have HEV, and when no strain of HEV could be found in one patient, extensive testing showed that he had an infection of rat-derived HEV-C.

Since that study, more cases have emerged. Now the rat-derived virus has been found in almost ten residents of Hong Kong. CNN reported that on April 30, the virus was found in a 61-year-old man with abnormal liver function.

A researcher at the University of Hong Kong that was involved in the 2018 study revealing the first known case, microbiologist Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, noted that hundreds more cases may be out there.

Public health authorities are still trying to determine how these people are getting infected. In the current case, no one else in the patient's household is infected, he hasn't traveled recently, and no rats or rat droppings were found in his home. "Based on the available epidemiological information, the source and the route of infection could not be determined," Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said in an April 30 statement. For now, the patient remains in the hospital.

Diagnostic tests that can detect the virus are better than they used to be, and Hong Kong scientists are investigating to see where rats tend to live and testing to find out how many are infected. There is still a lot more to learn. Researchers are not only trying to find out how people are getting rat-derived HEV, they also need to learn how long the virus incubates and how to treat it.

A case identified last year is outlined in the video.

Scientists suspect that many cases of the disease may be mild and there could be far more people infected in many more cities than we're now aware of. In more vulnerable populations like the elderly or people with weak immune systems, the disease may be more serious.

"We need ongoing vigilance in the public to control this unusual infection. I really hope that public health authorities take the first step and look at how much their populations are actually being exposed to rat hepatitis E," added Sridhar.

Sources: Emerging Infectious Diseases, Oxford Journal of Infectious Diseases

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 10, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 10, 2020
Study Suggests 14-Day Quarantine for SARS-CoV-2 is Reasonable
The vast majority (97.5%) of people will develop symptoms of infection within 11.5 days of exposure to the virus.
MAR 25, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
MAR 25, 2020
A coronavirus testing kit with glow-in-the-dark Mango?
A group of Canadian researchers is responding to a desperate need for COVID-19 diagnostic kits with their fluorescent im ...
MAR 25, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 25, 2020
The Patterns Formed by Biofilms
Bacterial cells grow in colonies called biofilms, which take on new characteristics, and can form intricate patterns.
APR 24, 2020
Microbiology
APR 24, 2020
How Syphilis Evades the Immune System
The incidence of syphilis has been rising for the past two decades, and over 115,000 new cases were diagnosed in the US ...
MAY 07, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 07, 2020
Will the Next Outbreak Come From Cattle?
Many species of Campylobacter bacteria are infectious and can cause a disease called campylobacteriosis in animals and p ...
MAY 23, 2020
Microbiology
MAY 23, 2020
The FDA Yanks Some COVID-19 Antibody Tests From the Market
The massive demand for diagnostic testing led the FDA to open a short window for many testing products to go to market w ...
Loading Comments...