Rat hepatitis E virus infection: 1 dead, 2 other cases reported

May 15, 2019 16:17
The Centre for Health Protection urged the public to keep food safe and surroundings clean amid possible rodent infestation. Photo: HKEJ

Health authorities are looking into the cases of three elderly men who contracted the rat hepatitis E virus (HEV), one of whom has died, as they urge the public to keep food safe and surroundings clean amid possible rodent infestation.

According to the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the patients – aged 67, 74 and 81 – suffered from liver function abnormalities. They resided in Kowloon City, Southern District and Tuen Mun, respectively.

Two have been in stable condition with no hospitalization required, while the other, aged 74, died on May 4.

Their blood samples tested positive for rat HEV, the CHP said.

None of the patients could recall having direct contact with rodents or their excreta, nor had they noticed rodents in their residence.

The 67-year-old man had traveled to Taiwan and South Korea during the incubation period but the two other patients had no travel history during the period.

Probers could not determine the source and the route of infection so far, although the investigation is continuing.

A spokesman said the CHP has informed the Pest Control Advisory Section of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department about the cases and called for rodent control measures and survey if appropriate.

In September last year, a 56-year-old local man was infected with rat hepatitis E, the world's first human case of the virus, before another case involving a 70-year-old woman was reported in November. Both were living in Wong Tai Sin at the time.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the recurrence of rat Hepatitis E suggested that the problem of rodent infestation has become more serious.

She noted that there had been a sighting of a rat that was even bigger than a kitten.

Quat urged the government to come up with rodent prevention and control measures as soon as possible and called on the public to pay closer attention to hygiene and rodent infestation in order to prevent community-wide outbreaks of the disease.

The CHP said while the exact manner of how rat HEV is transmitted to humans is unknown at the moment, the virus is mainly transmitted through the fecal-oral route, such as when food or drinking water is contaminated with rat feces.

Foodborne transmission can stem from ingestion of undercooked meat or meat products produced from infected animals (HEV has been detected in pig livers), according to the CHP announcement.

Other transmission routes include blood transfusion, organ transplant and vertical transmission from a pregnant woman to her fetus, the CHP said.

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