Infections with the hepatitis E virus (HEV) can lead to acute hepatitis in humans. In transplantation patients, chronic hepatitis frequently occurs, which often leads to a life-threatening liver cirrhosis. The number of notified hepatitis E cases in Germany has been continuously increased in the last years. Here, the HEV genotype 3 (GT3) is mainly found, which is distributed in pigs and can be transmitted zoonotically to humans.
An additional HEV (ratHEV) was discovered a few years ago, which is worldwide distributed in various rat species. RatHEV is only distantly related to HEV-GT3. However, since 2018, ratHEV has also been detected in several human hepatitis patients, mainly in Hongkong. The aim of the project is the assessment of the zoonotic potential of ratHEV, its circulation in rats and the transmission of the agent to humans in Germany.
To this end, several investigations will be performed by an interdisciplinary team of physicians, veterinarians and biologists in this PhD project. Hepatitis patients, blood donors and rat samples from Germany will be investigated to unravel the level of current ratHEV circulation. In addition, the infectivity and pathogenicity of a human ratHEV strain from Hongkong will be compared to that of a strain derived from a rat from Germany and an HEV-GT3 strain. The investigations should show, if ratHEV is actually present in humans and rats in Germany and clarify, if the zoonotic potential of strains from Germany is similar to that from Hongkong. The results should therefore contribute to clarify the zoonotic potential of a novel agent, which possibly is just about to jump from animals to humans.
Prof. Dr. Reimar Johne
German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Berlin
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