10 January 2018

Namibia: 70 New Cases of Hepatitis E Virus in 4 Days

Photo: New Era
Namibia's Goreangab residents use contaminated water.

Windhoek — Incidences of hepatitis E virus (HEV) have been steadily increasing across Havana and Goreangab informal settlements in Windhoek, with 70 new cases reported in four days.

Yesterday the Ministry of Health and Social Services' acting permanent secretary Dr David Uirab confirmed to New Era that the number of cases of hepatitis E now stand at 237, compared to 167 last Thursday.

He said no more lives have been lost apart for the ones previously reported. Uirab said to date four patients have been admitted to the Katutura State Hospital and are being kept in isolation.

Uirab said a team consisting of stakeholders such as the City of Windhoek, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Social Services is currently in Havana and Goreangab working vigorously to contain the disease.

Last week, the deputy representative of UNICEF, Marcus Betts, told New Era that the organisation, together with its development partners, has not been very active in Windhoek's sanitation and water supply projects because access to sanitation is "much worse in rural areas".

The outbreak of hepatitis E was detected in mid-December 2017 and the virus is concentrated in the informal settlements of Havana, Goreangab, Hakahana, Greenwell Matongo, Ombili and the broader Katutura.

"The health ministry is now putting emphasis on hygiene education where community members are being encouraged to maintain cleanliness, boil their water, and to wash their hands.

"We are also distributing water purification tablets to make sure that if people use water from compromised sources the water is safe," Uirab said last week.

Since hepatitis E is a waterborne disease, the health ministry is currently testing water in the affected areas.

According to WHO, hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV) - a small virus with a positive-sense, single-stranded ribonucleic acid (RNA) genome.

The virus has at least four different types: genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4. Genotypes 1 and 2 have been found only in humans. Genotype 3 and 4 viruses circulate in several animals (including pigs, wild boars, and deer) without causing any disease, and occasionally infect humans.

The virus is shed in the stools of infected persons, and enters the human body through the intestine. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water. Usually the infection is self-limiting and resolves within two to six weeks. Occasionally a serious disease, known as fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) develops, and a proportion of people with this disease can die.

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