Windhoek — Initially, 22-year-old Emilia Indongo thought she was pregnant when she started feeling dizzy, weak, nauseous and started vomiting on Christmas Eve. It was only after 10 days of medical tests, including pregnancy tests, that she was told she is infected with hepatitis E. In the weeks of medical tests a weak Indongo shuttled between her home and hospital, while enduring episodes of vomiting and lying helpless in her bed.
When the symptoms first progressed Indongo noticed that her urine was yellow and so were her eyes. "I went to the clinic and they did a pregnancy test but the result was negative," said Indongo.
In addition to the pregnancy test, several other tests were done through a blood sample that was taken. "They didn't give me medication or tell me what's wrong - they just said I should go back for my results," said Indongo who spoke from her shack in Goreangab informal settlement yesterday.
As symptoms progressed, Indongo who was vomiting heavily decided to seek medical attention again, only this time she went to a different health facility. Other symptoms included loss of appetite, back pain, pain in the lower abdomen.
"I was really vomiting a lot and I lay in bed helpless for two weeks. They also took some blood samples and told me to return," said Indongo. She went back for her results after ten days and was told that she tested positive for hepatitis E (viral hepatitis).
The Ministry of Health and Social Services in mid-December declared an outbreak of hepatitis E in Windhoek, particularly the informal settlements, including Goreangab and Havana. The health ministry is now putting emphasis on hygiene education whereby community members are encouraged to maintain cleanliness, boil their water and wash their hands. "They put me on a drip and gave me medicine after my diagnosis," said Indongo who is recovering at home. Indongo does not have much knowledge on how viral hepatitis is spread but was quick to add: "We are using pit latrines here and it's not very hygienic for us. Previously I drank unboiled water but I don't do that anymore. We received water purification tablets to put in the water."
She has been living in Goreangab informal settlement for the past four years. According to the World Health Organisation (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.
According to WHO, 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. Furthermore, statistics from WHO show that every year there are an estimated 20 million HEV infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of hepatitis E.