A 56-year-old man from Hong Kong has developed the world's first human case of rat hepatitis E, Chinese scientists announced Friday.
The man was diagnosed after doctors found his liver was functioning abnormally following a transplant, which was prompted by a chronic infection of Hepatitis B.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong said the case has "major public significance", as it has not previously been known if the disease could be passed from rats to humans.
Before this case, there had been no previous evidence that rat hepatitis E, one of the variants of the virus that affects mammals, could be transmitted to humans.
Image: There were signs of a rat infestation outside the patient's home.
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.
The patient has been cured of the disease, his doctors said.
Image There were signs of a rat infestation outside the patient's home. File pic
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong suspect he became infected after eating food that was contaminated by infected rat droppings. But because the rat strain is present in rats all around the world, it may be time to modify the diagnostic tests used for hepatitis to include such strains, to see whether this can solve "cases of unexplained hepatitis", he said. In rare cases, it can also cause liver failure and death. The animal form of the disease is thought to infect wild boars, domestic pigs and deer, as well as rats and other rodents. The man lives next to a trash chute, where conditions aren't hygienic, the Post said.
There is no treatment for hepatitis but it usually clears up by itself.
The infected person will face a variety of symptoms like fever, nausea, discoloration of the eyes, dark urine, pale stools, and an enlarged liver.
It is common for diseases to spread from animals to humans.
The human version of hepatitis E is normally spread by ingesting contaminated water.
The disease is relatively uncommon among humans in the U.S., CDC reported, however, on a global scale, roughly 20 million people are infected, according to the World Health Organization.