Hepatitis E: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). It can be acute (short-term) or, in rare cases, chronic (long-term). The virus is found worldwide, but it’s more common in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water.

Hepatitis E has been making headlines across Europe at the start of 2024. In Finland, there have been 99 reported cases between January and the middle of March, over three times the average yearly number, a marked difference.

However, Finland is not the only afflicted country in Europe. In January alone, over 350 cases have been reported in Germany, 63 in Czech Republic, and 36 in Belgium. And yes, Hep E has been detected here in Ireland too, with six cases reported in January 2024.

Though not as common as some other forms of hepatitis, but it’s still important to know about. Here, we’ll break down what hepatitis E is, its symptoms, how it spreads, and what you can do to protect yourself.

How Does Hepatitis E Spread?

Hepatitis E usually spreads through contaminated water or food. Eating undercooked or raw pork, deer, or wild boar meat can also be a source of infection. In some cases, it can spread through contact with the faeces of an infected person. However, it’s important to note that hepatitis E is not as easily spread as some other forms of hepatitis, like hepatitis B or C.

Symptoms of Hepatitis E

The symptoms of hepatitis E can vary from person to person, but they usually appear a few weeks after exposure to the virus. Common symptoms include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-coloured stools

In some cases, especially in pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems, hepatitis E can lead to serious complications, such as liver failure.

Preventing Hepatitis E

Preventing hepatitis E mainly involves practicing good hygiene and avoiding contaminated food and water. Here are some tips to reduce your risk:

Wash your hands: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially before eating or preparing food, and after using the bathroom or changing diapers.

Drink clean water: Make sure to drink clean, safe water. If you’re not sure about the water quality, boil it before drinking or use bottled water.

Cook meat thoroughly: Cook meat, especially pork, deer, or wild boar, thoroughly to kill any viruses or bacteria that may be present.

Practice safe sex: Hepatitis E can rarely spread through sexual contact, so practicing safe sex can help reduce the risk of infection.

Avoid raw shellfish: Raw shellfish, like oysters, can sometimes be contaminated with the hepatitis E virus. Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially if you’re in an area where hepatitis E is common.

When to See a Doctor

If you develop symptoms of hepatitis E, especially jaundice, it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. While most cases of hepatitis E resolve on their own without treatment, some people may need medical care to manage their symptoms and prevent complications.

In conclusion, hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis E virus. It can cause symptoms like jaundice, fatigue, and abdominal pain. To prevent hepatitis E, practice good hygiene, avoid contaminated food and water, and seek medical care if you develop symptoms. By taking these precautions, you can reduce your risk of hepatitis E and stay healthy.

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