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Call to expand screenings for rat-borne virus amid 'tip of iceberg' fears

Top News | Jane Cheung May 20, 2019
<p>Screenings for hepatitis E should be extended to all hospitals as there could be many people who are unaware they are infected, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung says.</p><p>It was revealed last week that three people were diagnosed with the disease, including one who died.</p><p>This took the total number of hepatitis E cases to five since last September, when the first human case of the virus previously found only in rats was confirmed.</p><p>Ho said the fact the three cases were announced within a short time could imply there are many more cases.</p><p>&quot;I worry that the diagnosed cases are only the tip of the iceberg,&quot; he said.</p><p>Ho said one case involved a person who received a transplanted kidney. But in tests before and after the transplant there was a failure to identify the hepatitis E virus.</p><p>Current testing procedure is not effective, Ho said, and even if people seek assistance at clinics doctors will struggle to spot the virus.</p><p>&quot;Patients, especially those with mild symptoms, need to be tested at Department of Health laboratories or Queen Mary Hospital for a specific virus test,&quot; he said.</p><p>Ho suggested authorities consider expanding examinations to all hospitals.</p><p>The hepatitis E virus may also pass between humans through an infected person&#39;s blood or feces.</p><p>&quot;If a patient does not pay attention to their personal hygiene and someone else comes into contact with their feces or if the patient donates blood the virus can be passed between humans,&quot; Ho said. &quot;But the chances of the virus passing from rats to humans are still higher than between humans.&quot;</p><p>Ho added that symptoms of hepatitis E are similar to other types of hepatitis, when a person has yellow eyes, dark urine, a poor appetite and a fever.</p><p>And high-risk groups in contracting hepatitis E and who could die include women who are pregnant, people deficient in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase and those who have undergone liver transplants.</p><p>Ho said the mainland has been catching rats to conduct tests and Guangzhou authorities found about 60 percent of their catch carried the virus.</p><p>He also warned people against attempting to catch rats as they could contract the virus.</p><p>Meanwhile, a rat-elimination alliance used a Guangzhou expert to catch rats in Kowloon yesterday.</p><p>Catcher Li Jing went to Ma Tau Wai Road, where one of the three virus patients lived, and one rat was caught in Sham Shui Po with a trap made from a cardboard box.</p><p>jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com</p>


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