What Is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is a virus that infects your liver. It can cause your liver to swell up.

Most people with hepatitis E get better within a few months. Usually it doesn’t lead to long-term illness or liver damage like some other forms of hepatitis do. But hepatitis E can be dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with weak immune systems, including the elderly or people who are ill.

Causes

The hepatitis E virus spreads through poop. You can catch it if you drink or eat something that has been in contact with the stool of someone who has the virus. Hepatitis E is more common in parts of the world with poor handwashing habits and lack of clean water. It happens less often in the U.S., where water and sewage plants kill the virus before it gets into the drinking supply.

You also can get hepatitis E if you eat undercooked meat from infected animals, such as pigs or deer. Less often, you can get the virus from raw shellfish that comes from tainted water.

Symptoms

You might not have any. If you do have symptoms, they may start anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after your infection. They may include:

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask for your medical history and details about your symptoms. Tell your doctor about any recent travel. Tell them if you think you might have had contact with water contaminated by sewage.

Your doctor will use a blood test or a stool test to diagnose hepatitis E.

Treatment

In most cases, hepatitis E goes away on its own in about 4-6 weeks. These steps can help ease your symptoms:

  • Rest
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Drink lots of water
  • Avoid alcohol

Check with your doctor before you take any medicine that may damage your liver, such as acetaminophen.
If you’re pregnant, your doctor may keep you under watch in the hospital. If your condition is serious, you may get medicine to fight the infection.

Prevention

No vaccine can prevent the hepatitis E virus. It’s most common in less-developed countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central America. You can lower your chances of getting the virus if you:

  • Don’t drink water or use ice that you don’t know is clean.
  • Don’t eat undercooked pork, deer meat, or raw shellfish.

Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom, change a diaper, and before you prepare or eat food.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 28, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Viral Hepatitis.”
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Hepatitis E.”
World Health Organization: “Hepatitis E,” “What is Hepatitis.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Viral Hepatitis A and E.”

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.