The pathogen is thought to be a strain of Hepatitis E which was thought to only affect rats. Doctor Siddharth Sridhar, a microbiologist from Hong Kong University, said: “Suddenly, we have a virus that can jump from street rats to humans. In 2018, a 56-year-old man, who had undergone a liver transplant, was showing abnormal liver functions with no obvious cause.
Tests found that his immune system was responding to Hepatitis E, but doctors couldn’t actually find the human strain of the Hepatitis E virus in his blood.
With tests for that human strain of Hepatitis E being negative, the researchers redesigned the diagnostic test.
They found that the man was, in fact, testing positive for the rat strain of the disease.
This was the first time in history that rat Hepatitis E had made the jump to a human.
Doctor Sridhar added: “We thought it was a one-off incident, one patient who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Since that first study, 10 more Hong Kong residents have tested positive with rat Hepatitis E.
The most recent case came a week ago when a 61-year-old man with abnormal liver function tested positive on April 30.
Doctor Shridhar warned there might be hundreds more infected undiagnosed people out there.
Hepatitis E is a liver disease that can also cause fever, jaundice, and an enlarged liver.
Hong Kong authorities have released advice to the public to prevent the spread of the infection.
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They suggest that members of the public should maintain good personal, food, and environmental hygiene.
For example, they should wash hands thoroughly before eating, store food properly or in the refrigerator, not leave food at room temperature for a long time, and use diluted household bleach for general household cleaning.
This is because normal household detergent may not be able to kill the rat carried Hepatitis E.
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High-risk individuals, such as elderly persons with a major underlying illness, and especially those who have undergone organ transplantation, have been told to exercise extra caution.
Authorities are dispensing advice in order to eliminate sources of food and nesting places for rodents in the living environment.
They suggest residents store food in covered containers and handle pet food properly to avoid it becoming food for rodents.
Refuse collectors have been told to be vigilant and dustbins must have well-fitted covers and must be emptied at least once a day.
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