Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hepatitis E Virus in rats no threat to humans

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: As researchers discover the presence of hepatitis E
virus (HEV) in rats, city doctors assure that since India is endemic
to HEV there may not be any major problem for people here. Rats are
capable of spreading a number of diseases to humans, and the recent
suspected cases of Hantavirus transmitted through rat droppings,
created a medical scare.

In India hepatitis E virus is mostly transmitted by faeco-oral route
through contaminated water, though there have been sporadic cases of
transmission from person to person, and to humans from animals
particularly through pig droppings and ill-cooked wild boar meat. The
discovery of HEV in rats means rodents may pose a health risk given
the poor sanitation standards in the country.

“HEV can be a major concern for pregnant women particularly if they
are in the second or third trimester. It generally does not infect
children. Most of the cases are cured, but 20 per cent of patients may
develop severe jaundice and other liver issues. India is endemic to
HEV and thus it would not cause much problem here,” said senior
gastroenterologist Dr Manisha Bangar of Care Hospitals.

The rat HEV is capable of infecting monkeys. It is feared that any
change in its genetic design may make rat HEV a major health problem
for human beings. A number of viruses that were originally in animals
have gained genetic strength to infect human beings, the latest being
novel human influenza virus and bird flu.

“There is no problem at this point of time. Presence of virus in
animals does not mean it will infect humans. The rat HEV is a
different strain from the ones found in human beings,” said Dr
Suneetha Narreddy, infectious diseases expert from Apollo Hospitals.

Rats may be a potential source of human infections because they have a
high sero-prevalence of antibodies against HEV and are in close
contact with people in many places.

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