A new report this week highlighted a growing virus outbreak in Hong Kong, a region connected to mainland China. For the first time in history, people in Hong Kong are catching rat hepatitis E is which is allegedly being transmitted from rats to humans reports CNN. The phenomenon has dumbfounded many as no one seems to know how it’s happening.
Hong Kong has been a major flash point of anti-China protests. Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony until 1997 when it China. In 2019, massive unrest erupted as thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest against an extradition law.
The original case was reported back in 2018 after infectious disease experts at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) examined a man who recently underwent a liver transplant and was suffering liver problems.
“Tests found that his immune system was responding to hepatitis E – but they couldn’t actually find the human strain of the hepatitis E virus (HEV) in his blood,” reports CNN. “With tests for that human strain of HEV negative, the researchers redesigned the diagnostic test, ran it again – and found, for the first time in history, rat hepatitis E in a human.”
Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, a microbiologist at HKU, said that “suddenly, we have a virus that can jump from street rats to humans.” However, he noted that it was unclear if it was just a “one-off incident.”
Since the original discovery, at least ten more cases were identified in Hong Kong. The most recently identified case was discovered a week ago in a man who had no recent travel history and had no indications of rats in his home.
“The rat strain poses a new mystery: nobody knows exactly how these people are getting infected,” CNN wrote. “In the two years since the discovery, researchers have yet to identify the exact route of transmission from rats to humans. They have theories – maybe the patients drank contaminated water like the usual human strain, or handled contaminated objects – but nothing’s been definitively proven.”
The man is still in the hospital according to a statement Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP).