Upstarts: Getting Ahead of Hepatitis E

Winter 2018

Illustration of a Hepatitis test

Lesser known than other forms of hepatitis, the hepatitis E virus (HEV) can nonetheless prove lethal, especially for pregnant women. But tracking an outbreak of the virus and taking preventive interventions can be challenging. The only way to tell if an individual has been infected is through blood tests, and such tests are not always readily accepted by citizens in the South Asian countries where the virus tends to occur.

Christopher Heaney, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, and colleagues have developed a saliva test to detect HEV, either in a current or past infection. Its performance is virtually the same as blood-based testing, they report. Implemented widely, it could help public health officials get ahead of HEV outbreaks in places such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, as well as regions of Africa with poor access to sanitation and clean water.