Hepatitis E Virus in Rabbits

Hepatitis E Virus in humans is a major cause of acute hepatitis in many developing countries in Asia and Africa, where it is transmitted by the fecal–oral route because of poor sanitation practices. Acute hepatitis E is also increasingly reported in industrialized countries, where the transmission is mainly zoonotic.

The initial discovery of Hepatitis E Virus transmission from domestic pigs has been followed by evidence that other mammals, such as wild boars and deer, are also potential reservoirs of Hepatitis E Virus[1][2].
Currently, there are four major genotypes Hepatitis E Virus known that infect mammals from a variety of species. Hepatitis E Virus-1 and Hepatitis E Virus-2 are restricted to humans and transmitted through contaminated water in developing countries. Hepatitis E Virus-3 and Hepatitis E Virus-4 infect humans, pigs and other mammals. The latter two are responsible for sporadic cases of Hepatitis E in developing and industrialized countries. Hepatitis E Virus-3 is distributed worldwide, whereas Hepatitis E Virus-4 largely is found in Asia. Hepatitis E Virus-3 and Hepatitis E Virus-4 infections have been linked to the consumption of raw or undercooked meats, such as pig liver sausages or game meats.

Recent studies have characterized new Hepatitis E Virus genotypes in isolates from rats in Germany, wild boars in Japan, and farmed rabbits in China[3][4][5].

The potential risk for zoonotic transmission of Hepatitis E Virus from rabbits in France is unknown. Cases of autochthonous hepatitis E are commonly reported in France, scientists investigated the prevalence of Hepatitis E Virus in farmed and wild rabbits[6].
One result of the study was that in France farmed and wild rabbits can be infected with Hepatitis E Virus. Analysis indicated that these French rabbit Hepatitis E Virus strain is a new genotype. The identification of a human Hepatitis E Virus strain that is closely related to rabbit Hepatitis E Virus strains reinforced the potential zoonotic risk for infection with this virus.

[1] Meng et al: A novel virus in swine is closely related to the human hepatitis E virus in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – 1997
[2] Meng: Hepatitis E virus: animal reservoirs and zoonotic risk in Veterinary Microbiology – 2010
[3] Johne et al: Novel hepatitis E virus genotype in Norway rats, Germany in Emerging Infectious Diseases – 2010
[4] Takahashi et al: Analysis of the full-length genome of a hepatitis E virus isolate obtained from a wild boar in Japan that is classifiable into a novel genotype in Journal of General Virology - 2011
[5] Geng et al: The serological prevalence and genetic diversity of hepatitis E virus in farmed rabbits in China in Infection, Genetics and Evolution – 2011
[6] Izopet et al: Hepatitis E Virus Strains in Rabbits and Evidence of a Closely Related Strain in Humans, France in Emerging Infectious Diseases - 2012

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