A,B,C - Now E?
In Western countries when we hear the word "hepatitis" we tend to think in terms of Hepatitis A, B, or C. However, there are several different strains of the disease, one of them being Hepatitis E. As with all other types of hepatitis, Hepatitis E is caused by infection with a specific virus, in this case Hepatitis E Virus (HEV). Like Hepatitis A, this virus is commonly spread through "fecal-oral transmission," which occurs when a person eats or drinks something that has been contaminated with the feces of someone infected with HEV. It can also be spread by placing any infected object into the mouth.
Since the nature of transmission is fecal-oral, Hepatitis E tends to be seen more commonly in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or where personal hygiene is not prevalent. Contaminated water supplies are often the cause of Hepatitis E infections. Monsoon flooding, or flooding after hurricanes (in areas like the US), contribute greatly to the spreading of this viral infection. It is possible for the infection to spread through animals as well. Casual contact, such as in an office or work environment does not usually cause infection.
What Happens When A Person Contracts Hepatitis E
In an infected person, the virus enters the liver through the bloodstream and propagates in the cells of the liver. Sudden onset of fever, exhaustion, nausea, depressed appetite, pain in the abdomen and jaundice are all common symptoms of the disease. However, not everyone who is infected develops all of the symptoms. Unlike other types of hepatitis, Hepatitis E does not cause long-term liver infection.
The symptoms of Hepatitis E are usually mild and last only a few weeks. There are instances when the symptoms are more severe and can cause serious problems. During the third trimester of pregnancy, a woman with Hepatitis E will likely suffer severe symptoms, sometimes causing death from a complication known as fulminant hepatitis, which results in liver failure.
Diagnosing The Virus By Ruling Out Other Diseases
Diagnosing Hepatitis E involves a thorough examination by a medical professional who will take a medical history and will want to know about recent travels, alcohol use, and sexual history. Since all symptoms of hepatitis are the same, certain tests will be scheduled to determine the presence of the virus. Some tests check liver enzyme levels and other tests check for antibodies the body has made against the HEV.
There are a number of diseases that present with similar signs and symptoms to Hepatitis E. These diseases will have to be ruled out before a diagnosis of Hepatitis E is confirmed. Other types of hepatitis (A,B,C,D) and reactions to certain medications such as birth control pills and acetaminophen cause symptoms that are similar to Hepatitis E. Mononucleosis, autoimmune hepatitis, infections by herpes simplex virus, toxoplasmosis, Wilson's disease, and liver cancer are all among the many other diseases that present with similar symptoms.
Because there are no specific medications designed to treat Hepatitis E, the treatment focuses on dealing with the symptoms or complications that may result from HEV. Even without specialized treatment, most people recover from Hepatitis E within a few weeks.