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Science File | IN BRIEF

Hepatitis E Virus Found in Rats in L.A.

November 19, 2001

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found a virus similar to the hepatitis E virus in rats in Los Angeles, a finding that could explain the unusually high incidence of hepatitis E antibodies among people living in low-income city neighborhoods. Previously, the only known animal host of the virus was pigs, which urban dwellers do not often come in contact with.

Hepatitis caused by HEV is clinically indistinguishable from hepatitis A disease. Most cases of hepatitis E in the United States have occurred among travelers returning from developing countries. Still, 1% to 5% of healthy blood donors have antibodies to the virus. In some urban areas, 20% have antibodies. The findings were presented at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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