ABBOTT PARK, Ill. - Researchers at Abbott Laboratories here recently announced the discovery of a new strain of the hepatitis E virus (HEV). The unique strain, referred to as HEV-US-1, was originally found in a patient nearly one year ago by Abbott in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. This discovery was recently confirmed by the identification of a second U.S. resident infected with the same strain of HEV.
Hepatitis E virus is a major contributor to fulminant hepatitis and liver failure in many developing nations. Infection with HEV is particularly devastating to pregnant women, resulting in death for 10% to 20% of women infected during their third trimester.
In 1995, a 62-year-old man, who had not traveled outside of the United States in 10 years, was hospitalized for developing acute hepatitis accompanied by fever, abdominal pain, jaundice and pruritis. Serological tests, manufactured by Abbott, confirmed exposure to hepatitis E. About two-thirds of the HEV genetic code was identified by researchers and found to be genetically different from the two major existing HEV strains, a Burmese (Asian) strain and a Mexican strain, so named by scientists who identified the strains in these regions
Cases of HEV have been reported in China, Mexico, Pakistan, India, Africa and Eastern Europe. Although cases of HEV are occasionally reported in the United States and Western Europe, the cases are usually associated with traveling to regions where HEV infections are common.
"This strain of HEV has never been identified in humans until the present time," said Isa K. Mushahwar, PhD, DSc, director of Abbott's Viral Discovery Group. "This unique case represents probably the first known report of acute hepatitis E that has not been linked to traveling outside the United States."
The original discovery has been recently validated by a second case of hepatitis E. Researchers found the same unique strain of HEV-US-1 in the serum of another U.S. resident diagnosed with acute hepatitis in Memphis, Tenn. It's unclear if the virus was contracted in the United States or Mexico because the patient had recently traveled to Mexico.
"The recent discovery of the U.S. strain of HEV," added James Koziarz, PhD, vice president, diagnostics products research and development at Abbotts, "could represent an important clue in understanding the worldwide distribution of HEV and its role in human disease."
Currently, Abbott Laboratories manufactures a diagnostic test for HEV that is available in Europe, Asia and Latin America, but not in the United States. Research is ongoing to determine the clinical utility of this test in detecting the new U.S. strain.
In 1995, Abbott's Viral Discovery Group reported the discovery of three unique and distinct flaviviruses, now known as the GB viruses, A, B and C. The GB virus C has been shown to be transmitted by transfusion of blood and blood products, and has been the object of intensive studies over the last two years to determine its propensity to cause disease.
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