What is Hepatitis E?
Hepatitis E is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV), which is primarily spread through contaminated water or food. Symptoms of hepatitis E include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. In most cases, the infection is mild and resolves on its own within a few weeks. However, in some cases, it can lead to severe illness or even death, particularly in individuals with
weakened immune systems or those who are pregnant. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E, but supportive care can help alleviate symptoms. Preventative measures include practising good hygiene, avoiding contaminated food and water, and getting vaccinated if you are at high risk for the infection. Hepatitis E | Symptoms cause diagnosis and treatment
Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis E
Like other Hepatitis Viruses, the infection of the Hepatitis E Virus has the following signs and symptoms.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Clay-coloured stools
- Joint pain
Symptoms typically appear within 2 to 8 weeks after exposure to the virus and can last for several weeks. Some people with hepatitis E may not have any symptoms at all. In severe cases, hepatitis E can lead to liver failure and death, particularly in people with weakened immune systems or pre-existing liver disease.
Causes of Hepatitis E
Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV), which is primarily spread through contaminated water or food. The virus can also be transmitted through person-to-person contacts, such as through faecal-oral transmission or through blood transfusions or organ transplants from infected donors. In rare cases, it can also be contracted through animal-to-human transmissions, such as from eating undercooked pork or wild game. Risk factors for contracting hepatitis E include living in or travelling to areas where the virus is common poor sanitation and hygiene and having a weakened immune system.
Risk Factors of Hepatitis E
There are several factors that increase the risk of the spread of the infection. These factors are;
- Travelling to or living in an area with high rates of hepatitis E infection, such as Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
- Consuming contaminated water or food, such as raw or undercooked meat, shellfish, or fruits and vegetables that have been washed in contaminated water.
- Having a weakened immune system due to HIV, cancer, or other chronic illnesses.
- Having a history of liver disease or cirrhosis.
- Being a pregnant woman, as pregnant women are more susceptible to developing severe hepatitis E.
- Having close contact with someone who has hepatitis E.
- Using injectable drugs or having a history of drug use.
- Having a history of blood transfusions or organ transplants.
- Being a healthcare worker or working in a healthcare setting.
- Being a member of a high-risk population, such as military personnel or prisoners.
Complications of Hepatitis E
If not properly treated, Hepatitis E can cause several complications. In presence of these complications, the treatment becomes approximately impossible. Some common complications are;
- Acute liver failure: Hepatitis E can cause severe damage to the liver, leading to acute liver failure. This can be life-threatening and may require a liver transplant.
- Chronic hepatitis: In rare cases, hepatitis E can lead to chronic hepatitis, which can cause ongoing damage to the liver and increase the risk of liver cancer.
- Jaundice: Hepatitis E can cause jaundice, a condition characterized by the yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Anaemia: The inflammation caused by hepatitis E can lead to anaemia, a condition characterized by a low number of red blood cells.
- Coagulation disorders: Hepatitis E can cause coagulation disorders, which can increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.
- Pancreatitis: In rare cases, hepatitis E can cause pancreatitis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the pancreas.
- Nephritis: Hepatitis E can cause inflammation of the kidneys, a condition known as nephritis.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome: In rare cases, hepatitis E can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition characterized by weakness and paralysis.
- Encephalitis: Hepatitis E can cause inflammation of the brain, a condition known as encephalitis.
- Death: In severe cases, hepatitis E can be fatal.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis E
Hepatitis E is typically diagnosed through a blood test that detects the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis E virus (HEV). The test can also detect the presence of HEV RNA, which is the virus’s genetic material. Other tests that may be used to diagnose hepatitis E include liver function tests, which can show if the liver is inflamed or damaged, and imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scan, which can show signs of liver inflammation or damage. A liver biopsy may also be done in some cases to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis E. The following tests may be used to diagnose hepatitis E:
- Antibody tests: These tests detect the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis E virus in the blood. These tests can be used to confirm if someone has been infected with the virus.
- PCR test: This test is used to detect the genetic material of the hepatitis E virus in the blood. It is a highly sensitive test and can detect the virus even in the early stages of infection.
- Liver function tests: These tests measure the levels of enzymes and proteins in the blood that indicate liver damage. Elevated levels of these enzymes can indicate hepatitis E infection.
- Imaging tests: A liver ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan may be done to assess the condition of the liver and to look for signs of inflammation or damage.
Symptoms of hepatitis E include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and nausea. A physical examination may also be done to assess the symptoms and to look for any signs of liver damage.
Treatment of Hepatitis E
Treatment for hepatitis E typically involves supportive care to manage symptoms and prevent complications. This may include:
- Bed rest: Bed rest is not a specific treatment for hepatitis E. It may be recommended as a general measure to help the body rest and recover, but it is not a direct treatment for the virus.
- Adequate hydration: Adequate hydration is an important aspect of treatment for hepatitis E. The virus can cause inflammation and damage to the liver, which can lead to fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Drinking enough water and other fluids can help to flush toxins and waste products out of the body and can also help to prevent dehydration, which can further stress the liver. It is important to drink clean and safe water to prevent further infection. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day is recommended for individuals with hepatitis E.
- Nutrition:proper nutrition can play a crucial role in managing the disease and supporting the liver’s ability to heal. Here are some nutrition recommendations for treating hepatitis E:
- Adequate calorie intake: It is important to consume enough calories to meet your energy needs and support your body’s healing process.
- High-quality protein: Consuming high-quality proteins such as lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products can help repair damaged liver tissue.
- Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide energy and support the immune system.
- Adequate hydration: Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help flush toxins out of the body and prevent dehydration.
- Limited fat intake: Limiting the intake of saturated fats and cholesterol can help reduce the workload on the liver and prevent further damage.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol consumption can worsen liver damage and should be avoided during treatment.
It is also important to work with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to create a personalized nutrition plan that meets your specific needs.
- Medications:There is currently no specific medication available to treat hepatitis E. Treatment typically involves supportive measures such as rest, proper nutrition, and hydration. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to manage complications such as dehydration, jaundice, and liver failure.Immune globulin and antiviral medications, such as ribavirin, have been used in certain cases but have not been proven to be effective in treating hepatitis E.
Prevention of hepatitis E is important and can be achieved through practising good hygiene and sanitation, properly washing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding consuming raw or undercooked pork or wild game. A vaccine is also available for those at high risk of infection, such as travellers to endemic areas and people with compromised immune systems.
- Vaccination: The vaccine is not currently available in many countries, but it is available in some areas with high rates of hepatitis E infection. It is typically given in two doses, with the second dose administered several months after the first. The vaccine is generally considered to be safe and effective in preventing hepatitis E infection.
- Avoiding alcohol and other toxins: Avoiding alcohol and other toxins is crucial when treating Hepatitis E. Consuming alcohol and other toxins can damage the liver, which is already compromised in individuals with Hepatitis E. This can slow down the healing process and make it more difficult to recover. Additionally, alcohol and other toxins can interact negatively with the medications used to treat Hepatitis E, making them less effective. Therefore, it is important for individuals with Hepatitis E to avoid alcohol and other toxins to ensure the best possible outcome for their treatment.
- Monitoring: Regular monitoring of liver function, such as blood tests to check liver enzymes, bilirubin, and other markers of liver health
In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to provide supportive care and prevent complications such as liver failure. There is no specific antiviral therapy for hepatitis E, so the treatment is mainly supportive.