What Is Hepatitis E?

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Hepatitis E is one of five viruses that have a tendency to infect the liver and cause acute viral hepatitis. As a disease, it is very similar to hepatitis A. Although a vaccine has been developed to prevent infection, it is not available to the general public yet. 

The hepatitis E virus is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water. It is usually a self-limiting infection and resolves within 4 to 6 weeks.

Occasionally, a fulminant form of hepatitis develops (acute liver failure), which can lead to death.

Here are six important facts about hepatitis E.

  • It is usually "self-limited." Self-limited means that a disease usually requires no medical treatment and will eventually be healed by the body's immune system, within about four to six weeks. Doctors might offer supportive treatment such as medicines to control nausea or IV fluids to help with dehydration, but no specific treatment for hepatitis E is needed.
  • It only causes acute illness. This means that the disease won't be chronic (like hepatitis B or C). Unlike chronic hepatitis, there is no relation to problems like cancer and cirrhosis. With that said, hepatitis E can lead to one severe complication: fulminant hepatitis failure (acute liver failure), which can lead to death.
  • It is a gastrointestinal illness. These illnesses involve the stomach and intestines. Because of this, symptoms of hepatitis E infection could include vomiting and diarrhea. However, like any acute hepatitis, symptoms of hepatitis E are usually flu-like causing fever, abdominal pain, nausea, muscle and joints aches and loss of appetite. Jaundice is very common in hepatitis E infection, but it is possible to have the disease and not show any symptoms.
  • Hepatitis E isn't a big problem in the United States. It is endemic (known to always exist in a certain place) in Southern and Southeast Asia, Northern and Northeast Africa and Mexico.
  • It can be dangerous during pregnancy. Though research is limited, when a mother in her third trimester of pregnancy catches hepatitis E, the infection can be severe and passed from mother to baby.

Symptoms of Hepatitis E

After exposure to the virus, an incubation period occurs, lasting between three and 8 weeks. During this period, an infected person does not experience symptoms, and whether the disease can be transmitted is unknown. 

When children are infected with hepatitis E, they usually do not experience symptoms and, if they do, their symptoms tend to be very mild. Adults between the ages of 15 and 40 tend to experience symptoms most intensely. The symptoms usually last between one and two weeks, and include: 

  • Jaundice (yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine and pale stools)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged liver 
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever


Krawczynski K, Aggarwal R. Hepatitis E. In: M Feldman, LS Friedman, LJ Brandt (eds), Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 8e. Philadelphia, Elsevier, 2006. 1713-1718.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 8, 2006. Viral Hepatitis E.

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