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First detection of Hepatitis E virus (Orthohepevirus C) in wild brown rats ( Rattus norvegicus ) from Great Britain

Murphy, Ellen G.; Williams, Nicola J.; Jennings, Daisy; Chantrey, Julian; Verin, Ranieri; Grierson, Sylvia; McElhinney, Lorraine M.; Bennett, Malcolm


Ellen G. Murphy

Nicola J. Williams

Daisy Jennings

Julian Chantrey

Ranieri Verin

Sylvia Grierson

Lorraine M. McElhinney


In the United Kingdom, there has been an increase in the number of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections in people annually since 2010. Most of these are thought to be indigenously acquired Orthohepevirus A genotype 3 (HEV G3), which has been linked to pork production and consumption. However, the dominant subgroup circulating in British pigs differs from that which is found in people; therefore, an alternative, potentially zoonotic, source is suspected as a possible cause of these infections. Rodents, brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) in particular, have been shown to carry HEV, both the swine HEV G3 genotype and Orthohepevirus C, genotype C1 (rat HEV). To investigate the prevalence of HEV in British rodents, liver tissue was taken from 307 rodents collected from pig farms (n = 12) and other locations (n = 10). The RNA from these samples was extracted and tested using a pan‐HEV nested RT‐PCR. Limited histopathology was also performed. In this study, 8/61 (13%, 95% CI, 5–21) of brown rat livers were positive for HEV RNA. Sequencing of amplicons demonstrated all infections to be rat HEV with 87%–92% nucleotide identity to other rat HEV sequences circulating within Europe and China (224 nt ORF‐1). Lesions and necrosis were observed histologically in 2/3 samples examined. No rat HEV RNA was detected in any other species, and no HEV G3 RNA was detected in any rodent in this study. This is the first reported detection of rat HEV in Great Britain. A human case of rat HEV infection has recently been reported in Asia, suggesting that rat HEV could pose a risk to public health.


Murphy, E. G., Williams, N. J., Jennings, D., Chantrey, J., Verin, R., Grierson, S., …Bennett, M. (2019). First detection of Hepatitis E virus (Orthohepevirus C) in wild brown rats ( Rattus norvegicus ) from Great Britain. Zoonoses and Public Health, 66(6), 686-694.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 6, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 29, 2019
Publication Date Apr 29, 2019
Deposit Date Apr 29, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 3, 2019
Journal Zoonoses and Public Health
Print ISSN 1863-1959
Electronic ISSN 1863-2378
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 66
Issue 6
Pages 686-694
Public URL
Publisher URL


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