Hepatitis E

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Overview

Hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread when someone unknowingly ingests the virus – even in microscopic amounts. In developing countries, people most often get hepatitis E from drinking water contaminated by feces from people who are infected with the virus. In the United States and other developed countries where hepatitis E is not common, people have gotten sick with hepatitis E after eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, wild boar meat, or shellfish. In the past, most cases in developed countries involved people who have recently traveled to countries where hepatitis E is common. Symptoms of hepatitis E can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. However, many people with hepatitis E, especially young children, have no symptoms. Except for the rare occurrence of chronic hepatitis E in people with compromised immune systems, most people recover fully from the disease without any complications. No vaccine for hepatitis E is currently available in the United States.

Symptoms

You might not have any. If you do have symptoms, they may start anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after your infection. They may include:


Mild fever

Feeling very tired

Less hunger

Feeling sick to your stomach

Throwing up

Belly pain

Dark pee

Light-colored poop

Skin rash or itching

Joint pain

Yellowish skin or eyes

Causes

HEV is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread when someone unknowingly ingests the virus – even in microscopic amounts. In developing countries, people most often get hepatitis E from drinking water contaminated by feces from people who are infected with the virus.

The hepatitis E virus spreads through poop. You can catch it if you drink or eat something that has been in contact with the stool of someone who has the virus. Hepatitis E is more common in parts of the world with poor handwashing habits and lack of clean water. It happens less often in the U.S., where water and sewage plants kill the virus before it gets into the drinking supply.

You also can get hepatitis E if you eat undercooked meat from infected animals, such as pigs or deer. Less often, you can get the virus from raw shellfish that comes from tainted water.

Risk factors

In developing countries, people most often get hepatitis E from drinking water contaminated by feces from people who are infected with the virus. In the United States and other developed countries, people have gotten sick with hepatitis E after eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, and wild boar meat.

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Complications

contracting a long-lasting version of the infection, neurological disorders, and severe liver damage or liver failure, which could potentially be fatal. Pregnant people are a notable at-risk group. Hepatitis E can affect both the parent and possibly their unborn child

Prevention

Prevention of hepatitis E relies primarily on good sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water. Travelers to developing countries can reduce their risk for infection by not drinking unpurified water. Boiling and chlorination of water will inactivate HEV.