Current Gastroenterology Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 302-307

First online:

New perspectives on hepatitis E

  • Kenneth C. HyamsAffiliated withDepartment of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards

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The infectious agent causing epidemic non-A, non-B hepatitis was identified in 1983 from a human challenge experiment. The novel hepatitis E virus (HEV) subsequently was cloned in 1990 and the genome sequenced. HEV transmission is highly endemic in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Fecal contamination of drinking water is the most common mode of spread. Although usually asymptomatic, HEV infection can cause fulminant hepatitis. Recent studies indicate that hepatitis E may be a zoonotic disease, with pigs and possibly rats serving as reservoirs for human infection. A recombinant HEV vaccine is currently in phase III clinical trials. The characterization of the major types of viral hepatitis during the last 20 years illustrates how modern genetic technology has revolutionized research in infectious diseases. Within less than two decades of the discovery of HEV, its epidemiology has been described, serologic tests have been developed, and a candidate vaccine has been evaluated in clinical trials.