Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by an infection with the hepatitis E virus. Transmission of the virus occurs when someone puts something in his or her mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of an infected person. Common symptoms of this type of hepatitis include abdominal pain, feeling very tired, and not feeling very hungry. For most people, these symptoms appear abruptly and go away within a couple of weeks. Treatment is focused on supportive care, since there is no treatment for hepatitis E that can kill the virus.
Hepatitis E is most often seen in young-to-middle-aged adults (15 years to 40 years old). Major waterborne epidemics of hepatitis E have occurred in Asia and North and East Africa. To date, no U.S. outbreaks have been reported.
What Causes It?The cause of hepatitis E is an infection with the hepatitis E virus (HEV). This is a single-stranded RNA virus from the family Hepeviridae and the genus hepevirus.
(Click Causes of Hepatitis E for more information.)
How Is Hepatitis E Spread?Hepatitis E transmission typically occurs through what is known as "fecal-oral transmission." If an uninfected person puts something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of an infected person (even if it looks clean), infection can occur.
Most infections result from contamination of water supplies, such as after monsoon flooding. Unlike hepatitis A (which is also spread through the fecal-oral route), transmission of the hepatitis E virus rarely occurs through contact with a household member or sex partner who has been infected. Casual contact -- as in the usual office, factory, or school setting -- does not spread the virus.
(Click Hepatitis E Transmission for more information.)