Hepatitis outbreak still under control

29 December 2017 | Health

JANA-MARI SMITH

A total of 38 people have been linked to the hepatitis E virus (HEV) outbreak in Windhoek’s informal settlements, including nine who tested positive and 11 Havana residents who are on treatment because they have shown HEV symptoms.

Last week, the health ministry announced the HEV outbreak, which had claimed the life of a 26-year-old woman, who died shortly after giving birth in November.

The ministry also confirmed that the outbreak had been detected solely in parts of Windhoek’s informal settlements, where the supply of clean drinking water is not always assured and sanitation challenges abound.

At the announcement of the HEV outbreak in Windhoek last week, health minister Dr Bernhard Haufiku confirmed that nine patients had tested positive, while four had tested negative, and in eight cases results were still pending.

The health ministry’s Dr Sikota Zeko this week confirmed that five people had since tested positive, while the ministry was still waiting for the results of 12 patients, up from the eight results that were still pending last week.

He confirmed that Havana, with 11 cases, had been identified as the epicentre of the outbreak.

Zeko explained that during an outbreak, when a person presenting with the symptoms of the infection comes forward from an area where the outbreak has been identified, no further specimens are taken and the person is immediately treated “by virtue of location” and the symptoms.

Last week the ministry confirmed that a total of 26 patients in the Havana, Goreangab, Hakahana, Greenwell Matongo and Ombili informal settlements had been tested.

Zeko said health education was continuing in the community on personal hygiene, sanitation and hand-washing, crucial to reducing the risk of infection.

The virus is transmitted via the faecal-oral route, principally via contaminated drinking water, and the disease is most common in areas with limited access to water, sanitation, hygiene and health services.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “the risk factors for hepatitis E are related to poor sanitation, allowing virus excreted in the faeces of infected people to reach drinking water supplies.”

The WHO also recommends that authorities ensure that residents have access to quality water supply and that proper disposal systems for human faeces are provided to help reduce the risk of HEV outbreaks.

Symptoms include jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, dark urine, pale-coloured stool, joint pain, nausea and vomiting.

Health officials urge anyone presenting with these symptoms to go to the nearest health facility.

Most people with hepatitis E recover completely and the fatality rate is about 1% for the general population.

However, for pregnant women, hepatitis E can be a serious illness, with mortality reaching 10%–30% in their third trimester of pregnancy.

Hepatitis E could also be serious among persons with pre-existing chronic liver disease or persons with suppressed immune systems.

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