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Hepatitis E

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Hepatitis E has been regarded as a disease of the developing world, where it causes large waterborne outbreaks and sporadic cases of hepatitis. Recent research has shown this received wisdom to be mistaken.

Recent findings

Recent studies have shown that authochtonous (locally acquired) hepatitis E does occur in developed countries, is caused by hepatitis E virus (HEV) genotypes 3 and 4, and is zoonotic with pigs as the primary host. Most infections are clinically inapparent. However, acute symptomatic hepatitis E has a predilection for middle-aged and elderly men, with an excess mortality in patients with underlying chronic liver disease. Chronic infection occurs in the immunosuppressed with rapidly progressive cirrhosis if untreated, the treatment of choice being ribavirin monotherapy for 3 months. Hepatitis E has a range of extra-hepatic manifestations, including a spectrum of neurological syndromes. HEV can be transmitted by blood transfusion and has recently been found in donated blood in a number of countries.

Summary

The diagnosis should be considered in any patient with a raised alanine aminotranferase, irrespective of age or travel history. The safety of blood products needs to be fully assessed, as a matter of priority, as blood donors are not currently screened for HEV.

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