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Rats are infecting humans with hepatitis, and nobody knows how

Rats are infecting humans with hepatitis, and nobody knows how


Rats are infecting humans with hepatitis, and nobody knows how

People in Hong Kong are falling ill from a hepatitis virus found in rats -- but nobody knows how they're being infected.

With tests for that human strain of HEV negative, the researchers redesigned the diagnostic test, ran it again -- and found, for the first time in history, rat hepatitis E in a human.

Since that first study, 10 more Hong Kong residents have tested positive with rat hepatitis E, also known as rat HEV.

Scientists are testing rat populations citywide to try to identify clusters before they can jump to humans, which has provided data on how many rodents in the city carry rat HEV and which areas have the most rats.

They're still trying to find a treatment, as the medication used to treat the human variant of hepatitis E has had mixed results on patients with rat HEV.

Not knowing how the virus jumps from rats to humans makes it very difficult to prevent further infections -- or even to make sense of all the data researchers have collected.

"What we know is the rats in Hong Kong carry the virus, and we test the humans and find the virus.

Rat HEV could be infecting people in New York or Paris, and we just don't know it -- because nobody is testing for it.
The only reason authorities caught this case was because they used a broad type of test that detects many strands of hepatitis E virus, said researchers in the report, which was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Only last year did the ECDC finally develop guidelines for how to collect data and report information on hepatitis E, said the letter -- but these new guidelines focused on the human variant and didn't include rat HEV, leaving what Sridhar calls "a blind spot in our diagnostics. "

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