Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a non-enveloped RNA (7.5 kb) virus that is responsible for large epidemics of acute hepatitis and a proportion of sporadic hepatitis cases in southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, parts of Africa and Mexico. Hepatitis E virus infection spreads by the faecal–oral route (usually through contaminated water) and presents after an incubation period of 8–10 weeks with a clinical illness resembling other forms of acute viral hepatitis. Clinical attack rates are the highest among young adults. Asymptomatic and anicteric infections are known to occur. Chronic HEV infection is not observed. Although the mortality rate is usually low (0.07–0.6%), the illness may be particularly severe among pregnant women, with mortality rates reaching as high as 25%. Recent isolation of a swine virus resembling human HEV has opened the possibility of zoonotic HEV infection. Studies of pathogenetic events in humans and experimental animals reveal that viral excretion begins approximately 1 week prior to the onset of illness and persists for nearly 2 weks; viraemia can be detected during the late phase of the incubation period. Immunoglobulin M antibody to HEV (anti-HEV) appears early during clinical illness but disappears rapidly over a few months. Immunoglobulin G anti-HEV appears a few days later and persists for at least a few years. There is no specific treatment available for hepatitis E virus infection. Ensuring a clean drinking water supply remains the best preventive strategy. Recombinant vaccines are being developed that may be particularly useful for travellers to disease-endemic areas and for pregnant women.