An outbreak of hepatitis E in Northern Namibia, 1983.

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  • 1 Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, South African Institute for Medical Research, Johannesburg.

In 1983 in Namibia's Kavango region, epidemic jaundice affected hundreds of people living in settlements lacking potable water and waste disposal facilities. Many were Angolan refugees. The disease, which after investigation was designated non-A non-B hepatitis, was most common in males (72%), in persons aged 15-39 years, and was usually mild except in pregnant women, who incurred 6 (86%) of the 7 fatal infections. Fifteen years later, archived outbreak-associated samples were analyzed. Hepatitis E virus (HEV) was detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in feces from 9 of 16 patients tested. Total Ig and IgM to HEV were quantitated in serum from 24 residents of an affected settlement at the outbreak's end: 42% had IgM diagnostic of recent infection and 25% had elevated total Ig without IgM, consistent with past HEV infection. The Namibia outbreak was typical hepatitis E clinically and epidemiologically. This first report of hepatitis E confirmed by virus detection from southern Africa extends the known range of HEV and highlights its risk for refugees.