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.