A middle-aged man from Hong Kong has developed the world's first case of rat hepatitis E.
Doctors discovered the man had the strain of hepatitis when tests on him revealed abnormal liver function following a liver transplant.
Experts at the University of Hong Kong found the unnamed 56-year-old man's home had signs of being infested with the rodents. Previous studies have shown that it is not able to infect rhesus monkeys, however, this case proves that the virus is unsafe to humans.
The clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong continued: 'Rat hepatitis E virus now joins the list of infections as an important pathogen that may be transmitted from rats to humans'.
The full extent of the rat-specific version of hepatitis E is not fully known, aside from what was observed in the patient.
The human strain of hepatitis E is typically spread through contaminated water or food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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. "We don't know if in the future there will be a serious outbreak of the rat hepatitis E virus in Hong Kong".
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Researchers think the man may have been infected after eating food contaminated with rat droppings or by possibly being bitten by a rat.
Hepatitis can be caused by various factors, including viruses or alcohol. Recent tests have fixed of disorders in the liver, and the following tests found hepatitis.
This hepatitis E case emerged when a patient had undergone a liver transplant on May 14th at HKU's teaching hospital Queen Mary, reports SCMP news. The virus is a liver infection that can cause fever, abdominal pain and jaundice.
There's no evidence of an imminent epidemic, the researchers said, but more work is needed to understand how and why the man got infected.
There are four other types of hepatitis known to affect humans - A, B, C and D - and most can be spread by human bodily fluids and faeces.
Rodent problems have worsened in Hong Kong recently because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather.
The World Health Organization estimates that the human variation of hepatitis E infects 20 million people each year, most commonly in East and South Asia.