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Reuters Health Information (2010-10-12): Hepatitis E rare in US military in Afghanistan


Hepatitis E rare in US military in Afghanistan

Last Updated: 2010-10-12 17:03:27 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although hepatitis E virus (HEV) may be endemic in Afghanistan, US personnel appear to be in little danger of disease, researchers report in the online November issue of the Journal of Infectious diseases.

"This study," Dr. Angelia Eick told Reuters Health by email, "demonstrated that the risk of contracting hepatitis E infection in the deployed setting is low, and we feel confident that with continued preventive measures such as maintaining clean water and food sources, any risk can be minimized."

Dr. Eick of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Silver Springs, Maryland, and colleagues note that although the prevalence of the disease in Afghanistan is unknown it is believed to be high, and the experiences of the Soviet military in the 1980s and other factors suggested that the risks might be considerable.

To determine the situation in US service members, the team examined serum samples from 1500 randomly selected personnel before and after deployment to Afghanistan.

The seroprevalence of HEV antibodies was 1.1% (16 subjects) before deployment. The seroconversion rate was 0.13% (in 2 subjects) thereafter. One experienced vomiting and diarrhea during deployment, but neither had any hepatitis-related medical encounters after their return.

Despite the reassuring results, the researchers point out that "continued surveillance of HEV exposures and clinical cases are essential within the military, especially during deployments to new locations or to an immature theater setting."

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Alain B. Labrique comments that in addition to military research, it's important to "evaluate the seroprevalence and exposure histories to various pathogens in the local civilian population."

Nevertheless, adds Dr. Labrique of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, the "negligible rate of HEV infection among US troops... is very welcome news."


J Infect Dis 2010;202:1302-1308.

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