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What is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E (HEV), a contagious, acute inflammatory disease of the liver, was not recognized as a distinct human disease until 1980.  It is caused by infection with the hepatitis E virus, and is uncommon in the United States. It does not develop into a chronic disease.

How is Hepatitis E spread?

Hepatitis E is spread through consuming food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person. Major outbreaks typically happen in regions of the world where sanitation is poor. There is considerable evidence that because swine (pigs and hogs) may carry the infection, and ingestion of pork or pork products may transmit the infection. Outbreaks of hepatitis E have been reported in Central and South-East Asia, North and West Africa, and in Mexico, especially where fecal contamination of drinking water occurs.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis E?

People most likely to be exposed to the hepatitis E virus are residents of areas where extended community outbreaks already exist, international travelers to regions where HEV is endemic, refugees residing in overcrowded temporary camps following natural catastrophes, those who come in contact with swine, and those who ingest pork products and venison.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis E?

Incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure, and symptoms usually develop over a period of several days.

Typical symptoms of Hepatitis E include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)

Abdominal pain and tenderness

Hepatitis E may range in severity from mild with no symptoms, to occurring  and progressing rapidly. The disease is especially severe in pregnant women where fatality rate may be as high as 10%.

How is Hepatitis E diagnosed?

Testing for anti-HEV is usually reserved for individuals with hepatitis in whom the other more common hepatitis viruses cannot be detected.

How is Hepatitis E treated?

Currently, there is no FDA-approved treatment for hepatitis E infection. It often resolves on its own over several weeks to months. For those rare instances in which the infection becomes chronic, treatment with ribavirin has been reported to be effective. Physicians should offer supportive therapy. Doctors recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluids. Check with health professional before taking any medication that could harm the liver.

How is Hepatitis E prevented?

At present, no commercially available vaccines exist for the prevention of hepatitis E.  Prevention is based on consumption of clean drinking water, avoidance of contaminated foods, and good sanitation.