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Fatal hepatitis E reported in Texas

June 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM

SAN ANTONIO, June 22 (UPI) -- Two cases of hepatitis E, thought rare in the United States, have been reported in Texas and blamed for one death, health officials say.

The San Antonio, Texas, cases of hepatitis E, a viral liver infection, usually considered a problem mostly in developing countries, have gotten the attention of state and local health officials, the San Antonio Express-News reported Tuesday.

One of the cases was a 21-year-old woman who died during a liver transplant, the other a 44-year-old nurse's aide who suffered some liver damage from the disease, the newspaper said.

"We couldn't figure out how they acquired it," Roger Sanchez, senior epidemiologist with Metro Health, said at a public health meeting in Austin recently. "None of them had any (foreign) travel history. They were previously healthy. Which begs the question -- how did they get it?"

Hepatitis E is usually spread through contaminated food or water.

Serious outbreaks of hepatitis E have taken place in Mexico, Asia and Africa.

Some U.S. researchers say hepatitis E is more common in the United States than previously thought. What remains a mystery, they say, is why some people get sick from the virus but most don't.

"It appears to be a relatively common infection. But clinical symptoms following infection appear to be quite rare," Mark Kuniholm, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said.

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