Epidemiology of hepatitis E: current status.J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Sep; 24(9):1484-93.JG
Hepatitis E, caused by infection with hepatitis E virus (HEV), is a common cause of acute hepatitis in areas with poor sanitation. The virus has four genotypes with one serotype: genotypes 1 and 2 exclusively infect humans, whereas genotypes 3 and 4 also infect other animals, particularly pigs. In endemic areas, both large outbreaks of acute hepatitis as well as sporadic cases occur frequently. These cases are usually due to genotype 1 or 2 HEV and are predominantly caused by fecal-oral transmission, usually through contamination of drinking water; contaminated food, materno-fetal (vertical spread) and parenteral routes are less common modes of infection. The acute hepatitis caused by this virus has the highest attack rates in young adults and the disease is particularly severe among pregnant women. HEV superinfection can occur among persons with pre-existing chronic liver disease. In non-endemic regions, locally acquired disease was believed to be extremely uncommon. However, in recent years, an increasing number of cases, due mostly due to genotype 3 or 4 HEV, have been recognized. These are more often elderly men who have other coexisting illnesses, and appear to be related to zoonotic transmission from pigs, wild boars and deer, either food-borne or otherwise. Also, chronic infection with genotype 3 HEV has been reported among immunosuppressed persons in these regions. A subunit vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing clinical disease, but is not yet commercially available. Our understanding of hepatitis E epidemiology has undergone major changes in recent years, and the future may hold even more surprises.