Hepatitis E Virus in Namibia

During the week ending on 13 October 2017, the first identified case was admitted to a public hospital in Windhoek district, with signs and symptoms of hepatitis E. During the week ending on 8 January 2018, a total of 237 probable and confirmed cases have been seen at various health facilities in Windhoek district with the same signs and symptoms. All suspected patients tested negative for hepatitis A, B, and C. A total of 41 of the 237 cases were sent for further testing, and on 8 January 2018, the results showed 21 were IgM positive for hepatitis E. On 19 November 2017, there was one confirmed deceased case, a 26 year-old female. Four days prior to her death she had delivered a baby. The status of the baby is unknown. The majority of the cases were from Windhoek district, Khomas region.
[The number of patients seen with acute clinical jaundice in Windhoek district by week, from September 2017 to 8 January 2018 (n = 237)]

Although infections with Hepatitis A, B and C are common in Namibia, Hepatitis E is rarely diagnosed in the country. As a result, the country has limited capacity for hepatitis E laboratory diagnosis. Additionally, the majority of hepatitis E cases have been reported from informal settlements within the capital district, Windhoek, where living conditions are poor. These areas are overcrowded, have limited access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Moreover, the holiday season will likely increase the movement of people within the country. All of these could be major contributing factors to this outbreak.

Additionally, during the rainy season, people often use rainwater or other surface water for drinking and domestic uses. This likely increases the risk of hepatitis E infection. Therefore, the above-mentioned factors might lead to the propagation of the cases from this area to other informal settlements and its distribution to other towns or districts, with similar poor environmental health conditions. Thus, the overall risk is assessed as high at the national level and low at regional and global levels.

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