Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a common cause of acute viral hepatitis (AVH) in many developing countries. In Egypt, HEV seroprevalence is among the highest in the world; however, only a very limited number of Egyptian HEV sequences are currently available.
The objectives were to determine the HEV genotype(s) currently circulating in Egypt.
AVH patients without serologic evidence of hepatitis A, B, and C viruses were evaluated for possible HEV infection using serologic assays for anti-HEV IgM and anti-HEV IgG and real-time PCR for HEV RNA. Stool suspensions from suspected cases were inoculated into rhesus macaques to confirm the presence of HEV. Sequence analysis was utilized to determine HEV genotype.
Of 287 subjects with AVH enrolled, 58 had serologic evidence of acute HEV infection. Stool samples for two of these patients were repeatedly positive for HEV RNA by real-time PCR. Macaques experimentally inoculated with these human stools also developed viremia. Sequence analysis of open reading frame (ORF) 1 demonstrated that these isolates belonged to HEV genotype 1 and were 3.9% – 9.5% divergent from other genotype 1 isolates. ORF2 was 5.3% – 8.7% divergent from previously reported Egyptian isolates.
This study strongly suggests that genotype 1 HEV related to other North African isolates is circulating in acute symptomatic patients in Egypt. Further evaluation of genotypic variability is underway in this highly endemic cohort and is considered an important component of our increased understanding of HEV pathogenesis.