New Delhi: As the monsoon approaches Nepal, a study published in the medical journal Lancet on Wednesday warned that parts of the Himalayan country ravaged by the 25 April earthquake face the risk of an outbreak of hepatitis E that could prove especially harmful to pregnant women.

The study, by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Alain Labrique and six others, says the earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 23,000, has left affected places vulnerable to the hepatitis E virus.

The virus, which is transmitted through contaminated water or food supplies, is most prevalent in South and East Asia and kills more than 55,000 people every year. The virus can lead to liver disease; it can be treated in four to six weeks, but pregnant women have a mortality rate of 25% when infected by the virus.

“Earthquake-affected areas are faced with a ‘perfect storm’ of risk factors: large displaced populations with limited access to clean drinking water, lack of sanitary facilities, the approaching monsoon, overburdened healthcare infrastructure, large amounts of circulating Hepatitis E Virus, and an at-risk population that mostly lacks protective antibodies," according to a statement by a group of infectious disease experts from around the world.

The available vaccine for the virus is currently only licensed for use in China; the World Health Organization has not recommended it for routine use because of lack of adequate data on additional safety and efficacy, especially in pregnant women.

The expert group recommended that Nepal’s health authorities initiate a request for the vaccine, build a stockpile and develop targeted deployment strategies for its use. The study noted that the WHO has also said the use of the Hepatitis E vaccine should be considered in outbreaks.

“Hepatitis E is a neglected virus that isn’t well understood but we are now seeing that it is likely a major cause of maternal deaths in countries where it is common," said Labrique in a press release. “We are compelled to advocate measures that reduce the risk of preventable mortality."

Close