World’s first human case of ‘rat disease’ found in a man in Hong Kong

World’s first human case of ‘rat disease’: Man, 56, is struck down after eating food laced with DROPPINGS on his infested Hong Kong housing estate

  • The man is thought to have caught a type of hepatitis E from rat droppings
  • Hong Kong scientists say he is the first person ever to catch the virus this way
  • They saw he lived in a housing estate which appeared to be infested with rats

A man in Hong Kong has become the first person in the world to catch a type of hepatitis E from a rat.

Concerned scientists believe he contracted the liver disease by eating food contaminated by rat droppings.

The case has ‘major public health significance’ because it proves rats can pass the virus to people, researchers warn.

Experts at the University of Hong Kong found the unnamed 56-year-old man’s home had signs of being infested with the rodents.

The unnamed man lives in the Choi Wan housing estate (pictured) in Hong Kong, and researchers said there were signs of rat infestation near his home

Doctors noticed the man, from Kowloon, had fallen sick and suffered abnormal liver function following a liver transplant.

Tests then revealed he had a rat strain of the hepatitis E virus (HEV). The virus can cause deadly liver failure in humans. 

Until now, there had been no evidence the virus could jump from rats to humans, researchers said. 

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In a statement, they added: ‘This study conclusively proves for the first time in the world that rat HEV can infect humans to cause clinical infection.’

The university said rat HEV is only distantly related to strains of hepatitis E which more commonly affect humans. 

The virus causes hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, and cannot be cured but usually heals on its own.

The man is believed to have caught the rat strain of the hepatitis E virus by eating food contaminated by droppings from the animals (Pictured: a worker opens the door of the rubbish room on the Choi Wan housing estate where the man caught the virus)


Hepatitis E is an inflammation of the liver which is caused by infection with the hepatitis E virus (HEV).

Hepatitis E is less common in developed countries because people most often catch it from drinking contaminated water or eating food containing the virus.

The virus is known to be carried by pigs, wild boar, deer, rabbits and rats but does not make them ill.

It cannot be spread through sex or sharing needles like other forms of the virus, but has been caught from blood transfusions and organ transplants in the past.

Symptoms of hepatitis include flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain, jaundice and vomiting.

There is no treatment for hepatitis but it usually clears up by itself.

Source: British Liver Trust 

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, the man lived on the Choi Wan housing estate, where there were signs of rat infestation.

Rodent problems have worsened in Hong Kong recently because of a sustained spell of hot and humid weather.

Experts suspect the man ate something which had touched rat faeces, allowing the virus to enter his body when he ate.

The man is now recovering after being treated in hospital, the Morning Post added.

Hepatitis E is usually spread through contaminated drinking water and causes fever, vomiting and jaundice, in which the skin and eyes turn a shade of yellow.

It can cause liver failure, which can be deadly if not treated by doctors. 

The human version of the hepatitis E virus affects 20 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

There are four other types of hepatitis known to affect humans – A, B, C and D – and most can be spread by human bodily fluids and faeces.

Hepatitis E is a major health threat in developing countries in Africa and Asia and in the past has been contracted from eating undercooked pork and deer meat.

Research published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2012 said there are types of HEV which could be caught from pigs, boars, deer, mongoose, rabbits and cattle, but at the time did not think it could be caught from rats or chickens. 

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