Hepatitis E could potentially spread in different districts in Hong Kong and the government should introduce more virus tests as a precaution, a medical expert warned yesterday.
It comes after three cases of the virus were confirmed on Tuesday, with patients, including one who died, living in Tuen Mun, Kowloon City and Southern District.
Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Microbiology, warned that since the three cases occurred in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, citizens in different districts have an equal chance of contracting the virus.
He added that the elderly are more vulnerable to the disease.
He believes more tests for hepatitis E should be introduced.
"The incubation period for hepatitis E is as long as two to six weeks, so it's hard to find out how they were infected," Sridhar said. "And even after being infected, patients may not show many symptoms, so it's hardly noticeable.
"Some people will suffer from acute hepatitis after the infection. Their eyes will turn yellow and they will have dark urine and a poor appetite. Patients may need to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in serious cases, or need a liver transplant."
He said those with chronic diseases and a weak immune system may suffer from chronic liver illnesses as their liver function will take a turn for the worse after they are infected with hepatitis E.
Hepatitis E is likely to be passed from rats to humans but not between people, he added.
"We should have recorded many more cases if the virus can be transmitted among humans. But we don't know if the virus will become transmissible between humans in the future."
Sridhar said patients will contract the disease after consuming food contaminated by rats or touching their mouths after coming into contact with places contaminated by rat feces.
"Uncooked food such as sushi and salad should be avoided," he said. "The virus can survive in the environment for a few hours, or even up to two to three days. Putting contaminated food back into the fridge will allow the virus to survive even longer."
"Some rats even ran into the homes of residents," Kowloon City District councilor Kenny Lai Kwong-wai said. "We are calling on the government to improve cleanliness and look into new technology for rodent control."