Hepatitis E is a preventable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV).
The HEV causes acute sporadic and epidemic viral hepatitis. The incubation period following exposure to hepatitis E ranges from 3 to 8 weeks, with a mean of 40 days. There are no chronic infections reported.
When travelling to areas where the hepatitis E virus is known to occur, avoid:
- drinking tap water
- having ice cubes in your drinks
- drinking unpasteurized milk
- eating uncooked shellfish
- eating unpeeled fruit and uncooked vegetables
Remember: always wash your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing and eating food. See more about Food Safety.
The general symptoms of hepatitis E can be:
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark coloured urine
- Pale feces
- Jaundice in some cases (yellow discoloration of the skin and sclera of the eyes)
People who have the virus may be infectious for up to two weeks after their symptoms appear.
The hepatitis E virus is spread in a way similar to hepatitis A known as ‘fecal-oral’. This means that the virus is passed out in bowel motions and finds its way into the mouth.
The risk for hepatitis E is higher in parts of the world that have poor sanitation conditions. Transmission can occur when a person:
- Drinks from a fecal contaminated drinking supply of water
- Eats food that has been touched by contaminated hands
- Ingests contaminated raw or uncooked shellfish
Person-to-person transmission is uncommon and there is no evidence for sexual transmission.
A small portion of patients will develop fulminant or sub acute hepatic failure. This is particularly common in developing countries among pregnant women. Hepatitis E adversely affects both pregnant women and fetal outcome with high mortality rates.
A blood test is necessary to diagnose hepatitis E.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E. It is regarded as a self-limiting disease, meaning that it runs a defined or limited course. Most people who have hepatitis E will recover completely.
If you think that you have hepatitis E or may have been exposed to it, contact your local health unit or family doctor for further information.
Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis E infection. Prevention is the most effective approach against the disease. Take precautions when you travel to endemic areas or areas where the hepatitis E virus is known to occur. When travelling to these areas, you are advised to avoid:
- Drinking tap water
- Having ice cubes in your drinks
- Drinking unpasteurized milk
- Eating uncooked shellfish
- Eating unpeeled fruit and uncooked vegetables
Always wash your hands properly after using the bathroom and before preparing and eating food.