CHP investigates case of human infection of rat Hepatitis E virus involving 78-year-old woman

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29th October 2020 – (Hong Kong) The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health is today investigating a case of human infection of rat Hepatitis E virus (HEV) and urged members of the public to be vigilant against hepatitis E infection and to strictly observe good personal, food and environmental hygiene.

 The case involves a 78-year-old woman with underlying illnesses. She was found to have deranged liver function during follow-up at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The patient is now in stable condition. Her blood sample tested positive for rat HEV upon laboratory testing.

The CHP’s epidemiological investigations revealed that the patient resided in Hung Hom. She did not have contact with rodents or rats, and had no travel history during the incubation period.

“Based on the available epidemiological information, the source and the route of infection could not be determined. The CHP’s investigation is ongoing,” a spokesman for the CHP said.

“The CHP has already informed the Pest Control Advisory Section of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department about the case to carry out rodent control measures and a survey as appropriate,” the spokesman added.

The exact mode of transmission of rat HEV to humans is unknown at the moment. Possible routes of transmission include ingestion of food or water contaminated by rodents or their excreta, exposure to environments or objects contaminated by rodents or their excreta and direct contact with rodents or their excreta. The usual HEV causing human infection is transmitted mainly through the faecal-oral route.

To prevent hepatitis E infection, 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 1:99 diluted household bleach for general household cleaning and disinfection as household detergent may not be able to kill HEV. High-risk individuals, such as elderly persons with a major underlying illness (especially those who have undergone organ transplantation), pregnant women, patients with chronic liver disease and patients with Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency (also known as G6PD Deficiency), who are infected with HEV may develop a serious illness, so they should exercise extra caution.