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PCR detection and analyzis of potentially zoonotic Hepatitis E virus in French rats

Frederik Widén1*, Florence Ayral2, Marc Artois2, Ann-Sophie Olofson1 and Jay Lin13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Virology, Immunobiology and Parasitology, The National Veterinary Institute (SVA), 751 89 Uppsala, Sweden

2 VetAgro Sup – Campus Vétérinaire de Lyon, 1 avenue Bourgelat, 69280 Marcy L’Etoile, France

3 Department of Biomedical Science and Veterinary Public Health, The Swedish University of Agriculture, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden

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Virology Journal 2014, 11:90  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-11-90

Published: 15 May 2014



Hepatitis E virus has been detected in a wide range of animals. While Genotypes 1-2 of this virus infect only humans, 3-4 can spread from animals to humans and cause sporadic cases of human disease. Pig, and possibly also rats, may act as a reservoir for virus. From a public health perspective it is important to clarify the role of rats for infection of humans. Rats often live close to humans and are therefore of special interest to public health. Rats live of waste and inside the sewage system and may become infected. Reports of hepatitis E virus in rats have been published but not from France. The possibility that rats in an urban area in France were Hepatitis E virus infected, with which type and relationship to other strains was investigated. This study provides information important to public health and better understanding the occurrence of hepatitis E virus in the environment.

Eighty one rats (Rattus Norvegicus) were captured, euthanized, sampled (liver and faeces) and analyzed by real-time RT-PCR’s, one specific for Hepatitis E virus in rats and one specific for genotype 1-4 that that is known to infect humans. Positive samples were analyzed by a nested broad spectrum RT-PCR, sequenced and compared with sequences in Genbank.


Twelve liver and 11 faeces samples out of 81 liver and 81 faeces samples from 81 captured rats were positive in the PCR specific for Hepatitis E virus in rats and none in the PCR specific for genotype 1-4. Comparison by nucleotide BLAST showed a maximum of 87% similarity to Hepatitis E virus previously detected in rats and significantly less to genotype 1-4.


This is the first study demonstrating that rats in France carries hepatitis E virus and provide information regarding its relation to other virus strains previously detected in rats and other host animals world-wide. Genotype 1-4 was not detected.

Hepatitis E; Rat; Zoonoses; PCR