What is hepatitis E?
Hepatitis E is a virus that can infect the liver.
Unlike other forms of hepatitis, the hepatitis E virus usually doesn't lead to long-term illness or serious liver damage. Most people get well within a few months.
How is hepatitis E spread?
People usually get hepatitis E by drinking water or eating food that's been contaminated by feces (stool) from someone infected with hepatitis E. But people also can get hepatitis E from contact with an animal, such as eating undercooked meat from or touching an infected pig.
It's uncommon to get the disease directly from another person. There's no evidence that you can get hepatitis E by having sex with someone.
It's very unlikely that you would get infected more than once with the hepatitis E virus.
What are the symptoms?
After you've been exposed to the virus, it can take from 2 to 7 weeks before you see any signs of it. Symptoms usually last for about 2 months.
Common symptoms are:
- Feeling very tired.
- Losing weight without trying.
- Nausea and loss of appetite.
- Pain on the right side of the belly, under the rib cage (where your liver is).
- Yellow skin (jaundice), dark urine, and clay-coloured stool.
- Sore muscles.
How is hepatitis E diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and where you've eaten or travelled. You may have blood tests if your doctor thinks you have the virus. These tests can tell if your liver is inflamed and whether you have antibodies to the hepatitis E virus. Having these antibodies in your blood proves that you have been exposed to the virus.
How is it treated?
Hepatitis E goes away on its own in most cases. To help yourself get better faster:
- Slow down. Cut back on daily activities until all of your energy returns. As you start to feel better, take your time in getting back to your regular routine. If you try to do it too fast, you may get sick again.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Fruit juices and broth are other good choices, if you can tolerate them.
- Eat a healthy mix of foods. Even though food may not appeal to you, it's important for you to get good nutrition.
- Don't drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. They can make liver problems worse.
- Make sure your doctor knows all the medicines you're taking, including herbal products. Don't start or change any medicines without talking to your doctor first.
If your symptoms are severe or if you're pregnant, talk to your doctor. You may need to be treated in a hospital.
How can you avoid hepatitis E?
Hepatitis E is more common in developing countries in Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central America. If you visit these countries, you can lower your chances of getting the disease if you:
- Avoid drinking water and ice that you don't know is clean, and avoid eating uncooked shellfish.
- Avoid uncooked fruits or vegetables that you haven't peeled or prepared yourself.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet, changing a diaper, or preparing or eating food.
- Discourage your children from putting objects in their mouths.
- Wash dishes in hot, soapy water.
There is currently no approved vaccine for hepatitis E.
People who have had any kind of viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E) since they were 11 years old are not allowed to donate blood.
Other Works Consulted
- Centers for Disease Control (2009). Hepatitis E FAQs for Health Professionals. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HEV/HEVfaq.htm.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2013). Donating blood questions and answers. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/QuestionsaboutBlood/DonatingBlood/default.htm. Accessed January 8, 2015.
- World Health Organization (2014). Hepatitis E: Fact sheet 280. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs280/en. Accessed January 8, 2015.
Current as of: January 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
W. Thomas London, MD - Internal Medicine, Hepatology