Detection of rat hepatitis E virus, but not human pathogenic hepatitis E virus genotype 1-4 infections in wild rats from Lithuania
Rat hepatitis E virus (HEV) is an orthohepevirus which is related to other HEV found in humans and other mammals. It was first identified in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) from Germany in 2010, and later it has been detected in Black rats (Rattus rattus) and Norway rats from USA, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and many European countries. In this study, we describe molecular and serological investigations of Black and Norway rats trapped in Lithuania, Eastern Europe, for infections with rat HEV and human HEV genotypes 1-4. Rat HEV-specific real-time reverse transcription-PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis of rat liver samples revealed the presence of rat HEV in 9 of 109 (8.3%) samples. In contrast, a RT-qPCR specific for HEV genotypes 1–4 did not reveal any positive samples. A nested broad spectrum RT-PCR was used for a confirmation of rat HEV infection with a subsequent sequencing of the amplified rat HEV genome fragment. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a clustering of all newly identified rat HEV sequences with Norway rat-derived rat HEV sequences from Germany within the species Orthohepevirus C. An indirect ELISA using a yeast-expressed truncated rat HEV capsid protein variant revealed 31.2% seropositive samples indicating a high rate of rat HEV circulation in the rat population examined. In conclusion, the current investigation confirms rat HEV infections in Norway and Black rats in Lithuania, Eastern Europe, and the non-persistent nature of HEV infection.
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