Hepatitis E

  • Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by infection with a virus known as hepatitis E virus (HEV).
  • Every year, there are an estimated 20 million HEV infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of hepatitis E.
  • WHO estimates that hepatitis E caused approximately 44 000 deaths in 2015 (accounting for 3.3% of the mortality due to viral hepatitis).
  • The virus is transmitted via the faecal-oral route, principally via contaminated water.
  • Hepatitis E is found worldwide, but the prevalence is highest in East and South Asia.
  • Two different patterns are observed, where hepatitis E is found in: resource-poor areas with frequent water contamination; and areas with safe drinking water supplies.
  • A vaccine to prevent hepatitis E virus infection has been developed and is licensed in China, but is not yet available elsewhere.
  • Prevention is the most effective approach against the disease. At the population level, transmission of HEV and hepatitis E disease can be reduced by:
    1. maintaining quality standards for public water supplies;
    2. establishing proper disposal systems for human feces.
  • On an individual level, infection risk can be reduced by:
    1. maintaining hygienic practices such as hand-washing with safe water, particularly before handling food;
    2. avoiding consumption of water and/or ice of unknown purity; and
    3. adhering to WHO safe food practices.