Hepatitis E virus in patients with acute hepatitis in Cape Town, South Africa, 2011.


National Health Laboratory Service, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, and Division of Medical Virology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa. [Email]


BACKGROUND : Early hepatitis E virus (HEV) seroprevalence studies in South Africa (SA) showed seroprevalence rates of 2 - 10%, and suggested waterborne transmission. More recent studies in Cape Town, SA, reported HEV seroprevalence rates of 28% and 26% in outpatients without liver disease and blood donors, respectively. An association was found with eating pork or bacon/ham. Only 3 human cases of hepatitis E in SA have been reported in the literature.
OBJECTIVE : To find evidence of HEV infection in hospitalised patients with acute hepatitis and no other identified cause.
METHODS : Leftover serum samples were retrieved for patients negative for hepatitis viruses A, B and C, where no other cause of hepatitis was identified. Samples were tested for HEV by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and IgM and IgG enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
RESULTS : Anti-HEV IgG was detected in 39/132 specimens (29.5%; 95% confidence interval (CI) 22.4 - 37.8), and anti-HEV IgM in 2/125 specimens (1.6%; 95% CI 0.4 - 5.7). No specimen tested positive by PCR.
CONCLUSIONS : IgG seroprevalence found in this study was similar to that previously reported in Cape Town. IgM positivity in 2 patients was not confirmed by PCR. Locally, hepatitis E may not be a common cause of clinically apparent hepatitis that requires hospitalisation.

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