What is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is a viral infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis E virus (HEV). This virus is one of 5 types known to cause acute and chronic liver disease. Hepatitis E can cause an acute or sudden infection but will usually then be eliminated by the body with no lasting effects. Whilst Hepatitis E infections usually have low mortality rates, in patients with lower immune systems there is a high risk of the infection developing into chronic Hepatitis with substantially higher mortality rates. Infection with the Hepatitis E virus can lead to severe illness, impacting upon the ability to work, care for family members and carry out a normal routine.   

A Hepatitis E infection can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, especially those in their third trimester, with mortality rates for both unborn child and mother up to 20%.

Did you know? …

Hepatitis infections are amongst the most common viral infections worldwide causing serious illness. Most will resolve naturally but up to half a billion people will develop a chronic and potentially life threatening illness.

How can I get Hepatitis E?

The Hepatitis E virus is prevalent in most developing countries and is particularly common in any country with a hot climate. HEV is mainly spread via the Faecal-Oral route due to faecal contamination of drinking water especially during monsoon rains, or from eating contaminated foods. HEV has also been identified in certain domestic animals such as pigs where up to 95% of animals have been found to carry the virus. This virus can also be carried by various small mammals including rats.

How do I know if I have Hepatitis E?

If you become infected with the Hepatitis E virus, you may develop a short illness for up to two weeks after you become infected. This illness can cause symptoms including fatigue, a change in the colour of your urine, abdominal pain, jaundice or a slight yellowing of the skin and whites of your eyes, a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes Hepatitis E can affect your nervous system leading to severe pains in your arms and legs. In most cases, these symptoms will go away after three to six months but in some people symptoms can last significantly longer.

How can I test for Hepatitis E?

You can have a test at Better2Know, either on its own or as part of our Platinum package. A blood sample is needed, and the same sample can also be used for any other STD tests you may want to order. Results are normally available the same day that the sample is received in the laboratory.  

How is Hepatitis E treated?

There is currently no specific validated treatment available for a Hepatitis E infection. However, a number of cases of Hepatitis E infection have been successfully treated with an off-label use of the same drugs which are used for treating Hepatitis B. Most therapies are designed to alleviate the symptoms helping the patient to feel better whilst their immune system fights off the virus.   

Can I get a vaccine?

A vaccine against Hepatitis E was developed a few years ago and tested in a high-risk group of people in Asia. Whilst the vaccine did appear to be effective at preventing people from contracting Hepatitis E, development was stopped as it was decided there was only a small market for the vaccine in more developed countries where the incidence of this infection is low. 

What are the risks if Hepatitis E is left untreated?

Around the world, there are an estimated 20 million Hepatitis E infections each year. Of these about 15% or 3 million develop into acute illnesses with around 60,000 deaths reported annually. Hepatitis E is particularly dangerous for pregnant women who can readily develop an acute infection, which has a mortality rate of around 20%. Hepatitis E is a significant cause of sickness and death in the developing world. Early diagnosis and disease management are the best defences against this virus.