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Keywords:

  • hepatitis E virus (HEV);
  • transmission;
  • genotypes;
  • vaccine;
  • cell culture;
  • diagnosis;
  • epidemiology;
  • zoonosis;
  • human hepatitis viruses

Abstract

Hepatitis E virus (HEV), the sole member of the genus Hepevirus in the family of Hepeviridae, is the major cause of several outbreaks of waterborne hepatitis in tropical and subtropical countries and of sporadic cases of viral hepatitis in endemic and industrialized countries. Transmission of HEV occurs predominantly by the fecal-oral route although parenteral and perinatal routes have been implicated. The overall death rate among young adults and pregnant women is 0.5–3% and 15–20%, respectively. HEV is a small non-enveloped particle that consists of a polyadenylated single-strand RNA molecule containing three discontinuous and partially overlapping open reading frames. There are four major genotypes of HEV and a single serotype. At present, there are approximately 1,600 sequences of HEV that are already available at INSDC of both human and animal isolates. Diagnostic and molecular assays have been described for the accurate differentiation of ongoing from remote infection of HEV. Identification and characterization of swine HEV in the United States, Japan, and many other countries and their close relationship to locally characterized human HEV found in the same geographic areas prove that HEV is indeed a zoonotic virus and that domestic swine, wild deer, and boars are reservoirs of HEV in nature. A cell culture system for the propagation of the virus has been described, and a very successful phase 2 vaccine trial has been completed. This review summarizes the current knowledge on the molecular biology, clinical features, transmission, diagnosis, epidemiology, and prevention of HEV. J. Med. Virol. 80:646–658, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.