Traveling to endemic areas carries a risk of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection, but no molecular analysis to document sources of infection is available. Eighteen (38%) of 47 patients with acute non-A, non-B, non-C hepatitis were positive for antibody to HEV (anti-HEV), and 9 (50%) of these were also positive for serum HEV RNA by polymerase chain reaction following reverse transcription. Only 1 (5%) of the 21 patients with acute hepatitis A was positive for HEV RNA. Travel to endemic areas (mostly to China; odds ratio, 22.2; 95% confidence interval, 4.7-105.8) and deeper jaundice (odds ratio, 5.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-27.2) were the only factors associated with HEV infection in multivariate analysis. The two HEV isolates from two patients who had traveled to China and the HEV isolate from a patient whose travel history was obscure formed a monophyletic group with the isolates from Guangzhou. The HEV isolates from our patients show a homology of 72% to 78% in nucleotide sequence with the Burma, Beijing, India, Pakistan, and Xiangjiang strains; a homology of 81% to 91% with the Guangzhou strains; and a homology of 76% with the Mexico strain. The close relationship between the Taiwan isolates and the Guangzhou strains was further supported by the short Kimura's two-parameter distances among them. In summary, HEV infection does occur in this area. Epidemiological and molecular analyses strongly indicate that most cases of HEV infection originated from travel to HEV-endemic areas.
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