Federal biologists in Seattle studying a virus in trout made a discovery that has already led to successful testing of treatments for a serious human health issue.

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) fish lab in Seattle helped isolate and classify a virus in cutthroat trout, but they also noticed that the virus was strikingly similar to human Hepatitis E. That form of hepatitis infects millions of people every year and leads to thousands of deaths. It is especially deadly for pregnant women.

The team published its report and made a brief mention of the hepatitis similarity in the final sentence.

Very soon after it went out we got a call from Belgium, said Jim Winton, Chief of Fish Health Research at the USGS lab in Seattle. Our colleagues in Belgium are studying hepatitis.

The Belgians wanted tissue and cell samples right away and began testing as soon as they got them.

Winton said the fish samples had many advantages over human cell testing. Cells from human livers do not hold up well in laboratory conditions and can spread dangerous pathogens to workers. The fish cells are much more durable and cannot be transmitted to humans.

Winton said the Belgium team was able to successfully test treatments that may soon be used to on human Hepatitis E sufferers, and the fish tissue has also shed light on conditions that help Hepatitis E thrive in its victims.

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