Background: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) causes acute onset of jaundice and a high case-fatality ratio in pregnant women. We provide a clinical description of hospitalized case patients and assess the specific impact on pregnant women during a large epidemic of HEV infection in a displaced population in Mornay camp (78,800 inhabitants), western Darfur, Sudan.
Methods: We reviewed hospital records. A sample of 20 clinical cases underwent laboratory confirmation. These patients were tested for immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody to HEV (serum) and for amplification of the HEV genome (serum and stool). We performed a cross-sectional survey in the community to determine the attack rate and case-fatality ratio in pregnant women.
Results: Over 6 months, 253 HEV cases were recorded at the hospital, of which 61 (24.1%) were in pregnant women. A total of 72 cases (39.1% of those for whom clinical records were available) had a diagnosis of hepatic encephalopathy. Of the 45 who died (case-fatality ratio, 17.8%), 19 were pregnant women (specific case-fatality ratio, 31.1%). Acute hepatitis E was confirmed in 95% (19/20) of cases sampled; 18 case-patients were positive for IgG (optical density ratio > or =3), for IgM (optical density ratio >2 ), or for both, whereas 1 was negative for IgG and IgM but positive for HEV RNA in serum. The survey identified 220 jaundiced women among the 1133 pregnant women recorded over 3 months (attack rate, 19.4%). A total of 18 deaths were recorded among these jaundiced pregnant women (specific case-fatality ratio, 8.2%).
Conclusions: This large epidemic of HEV infection illustrates the dramatic impact of this disease on pregnant women. Timely interventions and a vaccine are urgently needed to prevent mortality in this special group.