The first hepatitis E vaccine has been developed and
approved for use in China.
Hepatitis E is a viral disease causing inflammation
of the liver. In China, it is the most common type of hepatitis affecting
adults. It is a waterborne disease and spreads through intake of food and water
contaminated with feces. It often occurs in the form of epidemics. Poor sanitation is one of the main reasons
for spread of hepatitis E.
Features of hepatitis E infection include jaundice,
loss of appetite, an increase in the size of liver, pain in abdomen, nausea,
vomiting and fever. The patient usually
recovers without any treatment.
If the above
is the case, then why do we need a vaccine against hepatitis E? We need the vaccine because
of the large numbers of people affected during an epidemic, especially those
living in compromised living conditions like refugee camps and serving the
army. Hepatitis E can result in severe disease and death in some cases, and
there is no specific treatment for it currently. Though there is no substitute for improving hygiene to prevent
hepatitis E infection, the vaccine could provide temporary relief against
hepatitis E in countries that would need more time to improve sanitation.
Though hepatitis E is relatively rare in developed
countries, a vaccine may also be useful in these countries especially to
travelers of endemic areas, or people at increased risk of developing hepatitis
E infection like those with reduced immunity or chronic liver disease.
A vaccine against hepatitis E was tested earlier in
the Nepalese army and was found to be relatively safe and effective.
HEV 239 that was just approved in China, was under development for 14 years. The vaccine was earlier
tested in 97,356 healthy participants in China. The vaccine was administered in
3 doses. None of the patients treated with a complete course of the vaccine contacted
hepatitis E infection within a year of taking the vaccine. The people
administered the vaccine also did not suffer from any serious
vaccine-associated side effects.
The vaccine will be administered to patients at high
risk for developing hepatitis E infection. China will also work with
international organizations to introduce the vaccine to other countries,
according to a statement issued by China's Ministry of Science and Technology.