Those who survived the Nepal earthquake may face a high risk of hepatitis E during the upcoming monsoon season, in particular pregnant women. This information was published in the Lancet and written by Alain Labrique from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The disaster killed 8,800 people and harmed over 23,000 leaving the path cleared for hepatitis E virus (HEV) that spreads mainly from feces to mouth through contaminated water. It is estimated that a total of 500 pregnant women might die as a consequence of the disease.
“Earthquake-affected areas are faced with a ‘perfect storm’ of risk factors: large displaced populations with limited access to clean drinking water, lack of sanitary facilities, the approaching monsoon, overburdened health care infrastructure, large amounts of circulating HEV, and an at-risk population that mostly lacks protective antibodies,” wrote the researchers.
Estimates say there are more than 20 million annual infections caused by hepatitis E in the world. The virus results in liver diseases and carries long-term complications. Moreover, 25 percent of pregnant women die upon infection.
An effective and safe vaccine is available but currently it is only cleared in China. Due to the lack of efficacy and safety data, the World Health Organization has not recommended its usage, especially in pregnant women. Nonetheless, researchers recommend it should be used in outbreaks like this one since over 400 pregnant women could be saved.
“Hepatitis E is a neglected virus that isn’t well understood, but we are now seeing that it is likely a major cause of maternal deaths in countries where it is common. We are compelled to advocate for measures that reduce the risk of preventable mortality,” said Labrique who is a professor in the Bloomberg School department of International Health and Epidemiology.
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