Although hepatitis E was recognized as a new disease in 1980, the virus was first visualized in 1983 and its genome was cloned and characterized in 1991, the disease is probably ancient but not recognized until modern times. Hepatitis E is the most important or the second most important cause of acute clinical hepatitis in adults throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In contrast, hepatitis E is rare in industrialized countries, but antibody (anti-HEV) is found worldwide. HEV is a small round RNA-containing virus that is the only member of the genus Hepevirus in the family Hepeviridae. Although similar to hepatitis A virus in appearance, there are significant differences between the two viruses. Hepatitis E is principally the result of a water-borne infection in developing countries and is thought to be spread zoonotically (principally from swine) in industrialized countries. Because diagnostic tests vary greatly in specificity, sensitivity and availability, hepatitis E is probably underdiagnosed. At present, control depends upon improved hygiene; a highly efficacious vaccine has been developed and tested, but it is not presently available.