By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Hepatitis E virus is spread via the feco-oral route, meaning the virus can be transmitted by ingesting food or water contaminated with feces that contians the virus. The infectioni s therefore more prevalent in developing regions with poor saintation and hygiene than it is in developed nations such as the UK or United states.
One measure that can therefore be taken to prevent the spread of heptitis E is improving sanitation. This includes ensuring cleaner public water supplies and the proper treatment and disposal of sewage and human waste. People should also maintian goof levels of personal hygiene and should wash their hands before cooking and after using the toilet. Hand washing is also crucial after handling soiled diapers or cleaning stool from an infected child. Strict hygiene standards should also be practiced in the manufacture of food, from the harvesting stage through to the handling, processing and cooking, which should all be perfomed in the absence of contamination.
A vaccine based on viral proteins was developed aginst hepatitis E and tested in the military personnel of Nepal in 2001 but development was halted for economic reasons because the infection is so rare in developed nations. However, the vaccine was foundn ot be safe and effective and further efforst to develop vaccines are ongoing.
People travelling to regions where hepatitis E is endemic are advised to take precautions to maintain high standards of hygiene. This includes washing hands after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. If water and soap are not available, alcohol hand gel or alcohol based wipes should be used. Drinking tap water should be avoided. Ice cubes should also be avoided as they may be made of contaminated water. Tap water should not even be used to clean the teeth and boottled water should be used instead. Unpasteurized milk and uncooked meat and shellfish should not be eaten and any fruit that is eaten should be peeled and washed carefully by the person who is eating them.
People with loong-term liver disease, a weak immune system and women who are pregnant should be articualryl careful to ensure all food they eat is cooked and that contaminated water is avoided.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2014