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Fatal outbreaks of jaundice in pregnancy and the epidemic history of hepatitis E

  • C.-G. TEO (a1)

Space–time clustering of people who fall acutely ill with jaundice, then slip into coma and death, is an alarming phenomenon, more markedly so when the victims are mostly or exclusively pregnant. Documentation of the peculiar, fatal predisposition of pregnant women during outbreaks of jaundice identifies hepatitis E and enables construction of its epidemic history. Between the last decade of the 18th century and the early decades of the 20th century, hepatitis E-like outbreaks were reported mainly from Western Europe and several of its colonies. During the latter half of the 20th century, reports of these epidemics, including those that became serologically confirmed as hepatitis E, emanated from, first, the eastern and southern Mediterranean littoral and, thereafter, Southern and Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the rest of Africa. The dispersal has been accompanied by a trend towards more frequent and larger-scale occurrences. Epidemic and endemic hepatitis E still beset people inhabiting Asia and Africa, especially pregnant women and their fetuses and infants. Their relief necessitates not only accelerated access to potable water and sanitation but also vaccination against hepatitis E.

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*Address for correspondence: Dr C.-G. Teo, Division of Viral Hepatitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop A33, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA. (Email:
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