A human has been diagnosed with rat hepatitis E in the first known case, researchers confirmed this week.
A 56-year-old man in Hong Kong developed the disease during a liver transplant last May and researchers believe he may have contracted it from rats that had infested a rubbish chute near his home, CNN reported.
A team of researchers studied the man for the past year but only revealed their findings on Thursday.
The man has since recovered after being treated with ribavirin, an antiviral medication for chronic hepatitis E infections, The South China Morning Post said.
Until now, it has been widely accepted that hepatitis E cannot be transferred from rats to humans.
"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," said Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, according to CNN.
He explained that, when it comes to disease susceptibility, monkeys closely resembled humans, but the risk of rat hepatitis E affecting humans was underestimated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted there was a possibility that hepatitis E could be spread from animals to humans but via foodborne infection from the consumption of uncooked or undercooked meat from infected animals.
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.
Sridhar and his team believe it is important to control the rat population in light of this new information.
"Rat hepatitis E virus now joins this list of infections as an important pathogen that may be transmitted from rats to humans," he said.
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