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Veterinary researchers discover first US strains of hepatitis E virus from rabbits
Date:10/25/2011

ies, though sporadic cases have been reported in industrialized countries such as the United States. The mortality rate associated with hepatitis E virus infection in humans is generally less than 1 percent, but it can reach up to 28 percent in infected pregnant women.

The virus has at least four distinct genotypes. Genotypes 1 and 2 infect only humans and typically occur in developing countries with poor sanitation conditions. Meanwhile, genotypes 3 and 4 are zoonotic, can spread from animals to humans, and are found in both industrialized and developing countries.

"It is worth noting that the strains of the virus found in rabbits in the U.S. and China closely relate to genotype 3, a genotype that has been shown to transfer from animals to humans," Meng said. "The question is, 'Do the strains of hepatitis E virus in rabbits infect humans?' We don't know, but the possibility is there and more research is needed to address this potential concern."

Cossaboom and her colleagues collected fecal and serum samples from 85 rabbits from two farms in Virginia one in Southwest Virginia and one in Eastern Virginia and found that approximately 50 percent of the rabbits were exposed to the hepatitis E virus. Researchers were able to genetically identify four isolates of the virus from the two rabbit farms.

"For future research, we are particularly interested in the potential zoonotic infection of humans and food safety concerns," Cossaboom said.

She added that pigs can serve as "animal reservoirs" for genotypes 3 and 4 hepatitis E virus. In other words, the pigs can carry and shed the virus, and occasionally the virus may transmit to humans. "However, it is unknown if the virus from rabbits can infect across species or serve as a reservoir," Cossaboom said.

There are five known types of viral hepatitis: Hepatitis A transmits from person to person from ingesting contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B and C spread by blood-
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Contact: Michael Sutphin
msutphin@vt.edu
540-231-6716
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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Veterinary researchers discover first US strains of hepatitis E virus from rabbits
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