HEV has the potential to become a chronic infection, especially in immunosuppressed patients. This is a risk in South Africa, where there are many HIV-infected patients
Hepatitis E gets little press compared to its better-known cousins A, B and C, but Stellenbosch University virologists say we should wake up to how transmission of this virus is changing. World Hepatitis Day is commemorated on 28 July.
Hepatitis E virus infection (HEV) is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis worldwide. The infection usually resolves within weeks, but sometimes it causes acute liver failure, which may be fatal. It is mostly spread through the faecal-oral route, and until recently was viewed as an infection primarily affecting people in undeveloped areas who lack access to clean water and good sanitation.
That picture is starting to change, however. Scientists have begun noticing a shift from hepatitis E as only a disease of the poor, to one that can also affect affluent people in developed world settings. The transmission mechanism appears to be changing: HEV is re-emerging as a zoonotic virus. In developed countries, doctors used to see HEV in travellers returning from endemic areas. Now, however, people are acquiring the infection from pigs and pork products (via ingesting the meat or faecal contamination) in countries like the United Kingdom and France.