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Hepatitis E is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus. It does not develop into a chronic disease.
Transmission of the hepatitis E virus generally occurs when someone ingests water that is contaminated with the fecal matter—even just microscopic traces—of an infected person. Major outbreaks typically happen in regions of the world where sanitation is poor.
Few cases of hepatitis E have resulted from person-to-person contact, and there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through sexual activity. Transmission via blood is rare.
Not all people infected with hepatitis E will show symptoms, but three to eight weeks after infection, those who do have symptoms may experience the following:
Health care providers review symptoms and can diagnose hepatitis E with a blood test, which will reveal the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis E virus. However, the test is not available in the United States.
There are no medicines for treating a hepatitis E infection after a person acquires it. In milder cases, doctors usually prescribe rest, plenty of fluids, and a nutritious diet. While one’s body fights hepatitis E, a person should avoid any medications—over-the-counter or prescribed—that could damage the liver. Sufferers should also avoid alcohol during the recovery period, as alcohol may also damage the liver.
Currently, there is no approved vaccine for hepatitis E, though a promising candidate developed in part by NIAID has been successful in clinical trials.
The best way to prevent a hepatitis E infection is avoiding contaminated water, especially when traveling in countries where hepatitis E is common.