As South Sudanese refugees poured into Ethiopia over the past two years, the Ethiopian government has been battling an outbreak of hepatitis E at three of the border refugee camps.
Ethiopia is home to 247,554 South Sudanese refugees, including more than 185,000 who have fled since fighting broke out in mid-December last year.
According to data from The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since April, there have been 367 cases of Hepatitis E in Leichuor, Kule and Tierkidi camps, which are all located in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia, bordering South Sudan. Laboratories in Addis Ababa and Nairobi confirmed that the virus is related to the Hepatitis E outbreak reported in neighboring South Sudan. Six more cases were reported in the refugeehosting communities of Itang and Nyin-yan. There has been 13 fatalities reported.
The UN agency is working with the Ethiopians on containing the viral outbreak. This includes providing safe drinking water, promoting hygiene, distribution of soap and the building of latrines.
Hepatitis E has been the cause of several outbreaks and sporadic cases over large geographical regions. The hepatitis E virus is contracted and spread through consuming contaminated water. However, people can also contract the virus through contaminated food, transmission from animals to humans, blood transfusions and from pregnant women to their newborn.
The clinical course of hepatitis E is similar to that of hepatitis A with no chronic form of the disease. Jaundice, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy are common symptoms.
Much like hepatitis A, the fatality rate is low with the exception of pregnant women where it can reach 20% among those infected in the third trimester. Liver failure is a frequent outcome with pregnant women.
There is no treatment for acute hepatitis E, therefore, prevention is key.