Hepatitis E

What is Hepatitis E?

General description/ Overview

Hepatitis E is also called hepatitis E virus or HEV. There are four different genotypes of which types 1 and 2 causes symptoms while 3 and 4 rarely do although the virus can be transmitted to other mammal species like pigs and deer.

How the virus is transmitted

It rests in feces of infected persons. When infected feces get into the water supply or contaminate food, anyone who drinks the contaminated water or eats the contaminated food has just acquired hepatitis E. This disease is rare in first world countries like the United States where sanitation and toilets are available to the masses but common in third world countries.

Travelers to third world countries or people in natural disaster zones where the plumbing no longer works also are at risk for many diseases from contaminated drinking water and food, including HEV. Pregnant women who get HEV often pass the disease to their unborn.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis E?

Symptoms appear from two to six weeks after contamination. Symptoms come in three stages which altogether last from one to six weeks. Since the symptoms are identical to many kinds of liver problems, it may take a while before a diagnosis of hepatitis E is reached.

Symptoms include

The first stage is fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and sometimes itchy skin, skin rashes, joint pain and abdominal pain.

The second phase features jaundice or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; passing very dark urine and pale-colored feces. All of these are signs of liver problems.

The third stage features a tender and slightly enlarged liver.

Rarely HEV can even cause total liver failure, so do not ignore symptoms.

Hepatitis E Causes

Those who contract hepatitis E typically come into contact with the infected stool of another person who has already contracted the hepatitis E infection. However, Hepatitis E can also be caused by a person being in close proximity with an animal infected with hepatitis E, for example by eating improperly cooked pork from a hepatitis E infected pig. Contracting hepatitis E directly from a person is relatively rare, and there is no tangible evidence that hepatitis E is caused by sexual contact, or that a person could contract the disease multiple times.

It’s highly unusual for a person to become infected with the hepatitis E virus more than once. Hepatitis E is caused by different factors than other kinds of hepatitis. The main causal circumstance for hepatitis E is animal-based, or of a zoonotic infectious nature – especially when it comes to boar, pork, and deer meat. Consequently, Hepatitis E is as likely to be caused by raising a diseased animal as it is by consuming the flesh of an infected animal.

How is Hepatitis E Treated?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a vaccine to prevent HEV is available in China. Unfortunately, it is not yet available for the rest of the world.

There is no cure for hepatitis E. There also is no specific drug or surgical procedure specifically for hepatitis E. However, many people do survive when given treatment to help alleviate specific symptoms. WHO states that ribavirin, a drug that kills viruses, and interferon may help people that suffer from HEV and immunodeficiency disorders.

Hepatitis E Prevention

The primary method of hepatitis E prevention is focused on good sanitation and ensuring access to a reliable source of clean drinking water. Those traveling to developing countries may reduce their chances of infection by drinking purified drinking water. Chlorinating and boiling drinking of water is also an effective way of purifying water.

Also, it is important to avoid eating raw pork as well as venison. Researchers have found that Immune globulin is not an effective method of preventing Hepatitis E.

There is no FDA-approved vaccine currently developed for hepatitis E available in the United States, but a recombinant vaccine has been approved for use in China. Hepatitis E typically resolves itself without treatment, as there is no specific antiviral therapy available for acute Hepatitis E.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018