Serological evidence for hepatitis E virus infection in Israel



Israel is suspected to be endemic for hepatitis E virus (HEV) because of its geographic location and the large-scale immigration from endemic countries. Although no cases of local HEV infection have been diagnosed, a serological survey would provide indirect evidence for such infection. We examined sera from 1,416 healthy subjects, including 1,139 Jews from various regions of Israel and 277 Arabs, most of whom reside in the West Bank of the Jordan River. In addition, we tested 13 non-A, non-B, and non-C viral hepatitis patients. Sera were screened for antibody to hepatitis E virus (anti-HEV) by a newly developed enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and by immuno-blots for both IgG and IgM anti-HEV activity. Positive samples were confirmed by neutralization.

The seroprevalence found by EIA was 2.81% and 1.81% in the Jewish and Arab populations, respectively. More than a 2-fold higher prevalence in males compared to females and an increase with age were found in both populations. However, these differences were nonsignificant. The geographical distribution was even throughout the country, except for two clusters of 3 and 4 seropositive individuals possibly reflecting past foci of infection. Eight of 37 ElA-positive sera were positive for IgG, and 3 were positive for IgM by the immunoblot assay. Among hepatitis patients (9 acute and 4 chronic), one patient with chronic hepatitis was positive for both IgG and IgM.

Our study provides indirect evidence that Israel is endemic for HEV. The lack of outbreaks may be attributed to generally good hygienic conditions and a controlled potable water supply, while unrecognized sporadic cases may be due to the unavailability of diagnostic tests. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.