Rats have been infecting humans in Hong Kong with a new strain of hepatitis, leaving scientists baffled about how exactly the virus was being transmitted from the rodents, according to a report.
There have been at least 11 patients, including one as recently as April 30, who have been found to have the rat strain of hepatitis E, CNN reported.
“What we know is the rats in Hong Kong carry the virus, and we test the humans and find the virus. But how exactly it jumps between them — whether the rats contaminate our food, or there’s another animal involved, we don’t know,” said Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, a microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong.
In the most recent case, the 61-year-old patient had no rats or rat excrement in his home, no one else in his household experienced symptoms, and he has no recent travel history, according to a report.
“Based on the available epidemiological information, the source and the route of infection could not be determined,” said Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) in a statement, the outlet reported.
The illness, which can also cause fever, jaundice, and long-term liver damage, can be dangerous for vulnerable patients.
“This should not be happening,” Sridhar told the outlet. “We need ongoing vigilance in the public to control this unusual infection. I really hope that public health authorities take the first step and look at how much their populations are actually being exposed to rat hepatitis E.”