Hepatitis E

What is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is an infectious disease caused by one of the hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D and E) that infect the liver and cause jaundice (yellow skin). The highest rates of infection occur in regions where low standards of sanitation promote the transmission of the virus.

In general, hepatitis E is a viral disease that resolves by itself followed by recovery. Unlike some of the hepatitis viruses, chronic infection does not occur. Occasionally, a severe form of liver infection occurs with mortality rates of 0.5 to 4.0 percent. The mortality rate among pregnant women in the third trimester may be as high as 20 percent.

How do you get Hepatitis E?

HEV is transmitted by consuming water or food that has been contaminated with human waste. It is often a waterborne disease, and contaminated drinking water has resulted in major epidemics. Raw or uncooked shellfish may also be contaminated and be the source of sporadic cases in endemic areas.

Susceptibility and Resistance

Susceptibility is general. There is no direct person-to-person spread of this virus.

Incubation Period

The incubation period for Hepatitis E is 21-60 days.

What are the Symptoms?

In children, the infection is mostly asymptomatic. There may be a very mild illness without jaundice that often is not diagnosed. Typical signs and symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine and pale stools), loss of appetite, an enlarged, tender liver, abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea and vomiting, and fever. 

Only a laboratory test can distinguish infection caused by the various hepatitis viruses.

Preventative Measures

Since there is no available vaccine for HEV, good personal hygiene and avoiding contaminated food and water are effective prevention methods.

Treatment

There is no treatment for this disease other than general measures to control symptoms in severe cases.

Where Does It Commonly Occur?

Hepatitis E outbreaks have been reported in central and Southeast Asia, north and west Africa, and in Mexico.