Rat Hepatitis E Infects Human for the First Time

In the United States, we frequently hear of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. There actually are five common types of hepatitis infecting people the world over: A, B, C, D, and E. In addition, there exist derivations of hepatitis that thus far have seem to have been confined to animal species other than humans. The ability for inter-species crossover didn’t seem to exist. All of that changed in regard to rat hepatitis E, a heretofore type of hepatitis that experts believed could not be transferred from rats to humans. This medical conclusion has now changed. The first case of a human contracting rat hepatitis E has been reported.

The Essentials of the Case of a Human Contracting Rat Hep E

The first diagnosis of a human being contracting rat hepatitis E occurred in the fall of 2018. The diagnosis occurred in Hong Kong and involved a 56-year old man. The man who contracted rat hepatitis E was recovering from a liver transplant surgery. That surgery was undertaken because his own liver was severely impaired as the result of chronic hepatitis B.

When the man received a new liver he continued to demonstrate abnormal liver function similar to what is expected when a person has a hepatitis infection. Upon testing, doctors were not able to find any of the human derivations of hepatitis impacting the man’s liver. Ultimately, doctors were surprised to learn that the man was infected by rat hepatitis E.

The man was promptly provided an antiviral treatment and the rat hepatitis E was eradicated. Human hepatitis E and now rat hepatitis E infections in human beings are treatable. With that said for a number of reasons people fail to obtain prompt treatment for hepatitis E and there are fatalities around the world every year.

The man’s doctors and researchers were highly interested in how the patient ended up infected with rat hepatitis E. They ultimately determined that a garbage chute near the man’s home was infested by rats. They concluded the crossover infection occurred as a result of the man’s exposure to this rat population infected with rat hepatitis E.

How If Rat Hepatitis E Transferred to Humans

As of this moment, a firm determination of how rat hepatitis E is transferred to humans has not been made. In the case of the man in Hong Kong infected with rat hepatitis E, the man has no recollection of being bitten by a rat. Moreover, investigators have found the rat hepatitis E virus in rat feces and urine found at the scene of the infested garbage chute near the patient’s home. Despite no firm statement being made about the manner of infection, the evidence is beginning to point at the prospect that rat hepatitis E can infect a human via rat droppings, urine, or both.

Rat hepatitis E is also transferrable to other animals that include:

  • Wild boar
  • Domestic Pigs
  • Deer
  • Other types or rodents

At this time, there is no evidence available regarding the potential transferability of rat hepatitis E from any other animals such as wild boars, domestic pigs, and deer to humans.

Human Hep E Versus Rat Hep E

Although not particularly commonplace in the United States, human hepatitis E is widespread in parts of the world that include:

  • Southeast Asia
  • Northern Africa
  • Central Africa
  • India
  • Central America

Human hepatitis E is most commonly transferred through fecal contamination of water supplies and food items. Human hepatitis E is thought to infect about 20 million people around the world. Of that number, over 40,000 people die from the infection annually. This is due to the fact that in some parts of the world, the antiviral treatment for human hepatitis E is not readily available.

Human Infection With Rat Hepatitis E Underreported

There is a growing consensus among medical experts and researchers that the incidence of humans infected by rat hepatitis E is underreported. There is some concern that in areas of the world with rat problems an epidemic of rat hepatitis E infections could be in the offing.

As of this time, there have been no reported cases of rat hepatitis E in humans in the United States. Medical experts caution that doesn’t mean that no such infections have occurred. For the vast majority of people, a human hepatitis E infection (and it is assumed a rat hepatitis E infection) does not become a chronic problem. Many people who become infected with hepatitis E (and possible rat hep E) may not show discernible symptoms of the disease and recover from an infection without medical intervention.

This is noted not to minimize the seriousness of a hepatitis E infection of any type. In the grand scheme of things, a person is more safely served by having an infection identified and treated rather than riding it out in hopes it goes away.

The fact that a form of hepatitis E previously not found in humans can be transferred from rats to humans underscores the need to control rats. Moreover, it illustrates the need to safely eradicate rat droppings and rat urine contamination.