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Officials with the Namibian Ministry of Health are reporting an hepatitis E outbreak in the capital city of  Windhoek. In mid-October, a Windhoek hospital began reporting  patients with signs of acute viral hepatitis. They tested negative for hepatitis A, B and C.

Namibia Image/Alvaro1984 18
Image/ Alvaro1984 18

Samples were later sent out for testing for hepatitis E. Last week, of the 27 samples tested, nine tested positive, five negative, twelve are pending, and one is missing. One death (case fatality rate 3.7%) has been reported; a woman who died four days after giving birth.

Eight of the nine confirmed cases were residents of the Havana informal settlement in Windhoek.

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Public health actions have been started to include public education, outbreak investigation and response as well as to build the national reference laboratory capacity for the diagnosis of hepatitis E.

The majority of hepatitis E cases during the current outbreak have reported in informal settlements where water and sanitation are compromised.

While rarely diagnosed in Namibia, hepatitis E infection is found worldwide. The virus is shed in the stools of infected persons, and enters the human body through the intestine. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water. Usually the infection is self-limiting and resolves within 2–6 weeks. Occasionally a serious disease, known as fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) develops, and a proportion of people with this disease can die.

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According to WHO, every year, there are an estimated 20 million hepatitis E infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of hepatitis E, and 56,600 hepatitis E-related deaths.