Hepatitis E is a viral infection that affects the liver. Infection can occur after eating or drinking contaminated food or water in less developed countries, or consuming undercooked pork products in Australia.
"Hepatitis" means inflammation or swelling of the liver. It can be caused by chemicals or drugs, or by infection with different kinds of diseases, including viruses. Most people recover within four to six weeks of getting hepatitis E.
Hepatitis E can be serious for:
The symptoms of hepatitis E include:
Symptoms normally start 3 to 6 weeks after the infection. For some people, symptoms may occur anywhere from 15 to 64 days after infection.
Some people, especially children, have no symptoms but can still spread the virus to others.
Hepatitis E can worsen chronic liver disease. Occasionally, hepatitis E can cause acute liver failure, which can lead to death.
Hepatitis E can be spread through:
Hepatitis E is uncommon in Australia and normally due to travel overseas. However sources of infection in Australia have included pork livers or products made from pork livers such as pork liver sausages or pork pâté.
People with hepatitis E are normally infectious for around 2 weeks after the start of symptoms, but the virus has been detected for up to 6 weeks after the start of symptoms.
People who live in or travel to countries with poor sanitation are at most risk. The virus is common in many parts of central and south-east Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the Mediterranean region, Mexico and South America. Over 60% of all hepatitis E infections occur in East and South Asia.
In Australia, those who eat undercooked pork products, particularly pork livers, are at risk of becoming infected.
If you are visiting countries with poor sanitation:
If you have hepatitis E always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
You should avoid the following activities while infectious (for at least 2 weeks after onset of symptoms):
People who have hepatitis E should check with their doctor before returning to:
As there is a small risk that some people may be infectious for up to 6 weeks after the start of symptoms, continue to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
There is no specific treatment or commercially available vaccine in Australia for hepatitis E.
Prevention is the most effective way to protect you from hepatitis E.
Diagnosis is based on the patient's symptoms and confirmed by a blood test showing antibodies to hepatitis E.
For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.