Background and aims: In recent years chronic courses of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection have been described in immunosuppressed individuals. This may implicate a potential role for HEV in the development of autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune hepatitis (AIH). Here we investigated the prevalence of HEV-antibodies in AIH patients in an endemic Central European country.
Methods: HEV-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) and HEV RNA were determined in 354 and 377 AIH patients, respectively. Clinical characteristics and disease outcome parameters were retrospectively collected.
Results: No HEV viraemic patients were identified in this cohort. A total of 106 AIH patients (29.9%) tested positive for anti-HEV IgG, and this figure was slightly higher compared to the prevalence in a reference cohort including 5,329 healthy Dutch blood donors (26.7%; P>0.05).
Conclusion: This is the largest study on the association between HEV infection and AIH. Apparently silent HEV infection is present in a significant proportion of AIH patients, yet appears not to have significant clinical repercussions in this immune compromised group of patients. Nevertheless, since acute hepatitis E may present with histological and biochemical features of AIH, the possibility of a (concomitant) HEV infection should be considered in this category of patients.