Hepatitis EVirusDiscovered in Urban Rats in South Korea

Researchers in South Korea found the hepatitis E virus in 4.4% of urban Norway rats, posing a potential transmission risk to humans, especially pregnant women. The identified strain belongs to the Rocahepevirus genus, previously reported in patients from Hong Kong, Spain, France, and Canada.

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Hepatitis EVirusDiscovered in Urban Rats in South Korea

Hepatitis EVirusDiscovered in Urban Rats in South Korea

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from Korea University College of Medicine have identified the hepatitis E virus (HEV) in urban Norway rats in the Republic of Korea for the first time. The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Virology, reveal that 4.4% of the 180 rats examined between 2011 and 2021 harbored thevirus, which can cause acute hepatitis E and poses severe risks for pregnant women.

Why this matters: The discovery of hepatitis E virus in urban rats highlights the potential risk of transmission to humans, particularly vulnerable populations like pregnant women, and underscores the need for preemptive measures to prevent the emergence and spread of new and variant strains of the virus. This finding has significant implications for public health policy and disease prevention strategies in South Korea and beyond.

Hepatitis E has become a growing concern in South Korea, with around 400 cases reported annually since 2020, including three fatalities. The virus can lead to symptoms such as fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, jaundice, and dark urine. Pregnant women face higher risks, including fulminant hepatic failure and death.

The research team, led by Professor Jin-Won Song, discovered that the HEV strain found in the Norway rats belongs to the Rocahepevirus genus, which is transmitted by rodents and can also infect humans. This strain has been previously reported in patients from Hong Kong, Spain, France, and Canada, and has been identified in rats in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the United States, and Germany.

Professor Song emphasized the significance of the study, stating,"This study is significant because it confirms that the hepatitis E virus derived from Rattus norvegicus found in Korea belongs to the same genus as the viruses reported in patients from Hong Kong, Spain, France, and Canada. "The discovery highlights the need for preemptive measures to prevent the emergence and spread of new and variant strains of the hepatitis E virus.

The identification of hepatitis E virus in urban Norway rats in South Korea underscores the potential risk of transmission to humans. As the virus continues to pose a public health threat, particularly to vulnerable populations like pregnant women, further research and surveillance efforts are crucial to develop effective prevention and control strategies against this emerging zoonotic disease.