Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found a link between pre-existing nutritional deficits and immune dysfunction and the risk of hepatitis E infection during pregnancy.
Hepatitis E, a virus that is largely transmitted through contaminated drinking water, can be particularly deadly in pregnant women. As many as 30 percent of pregnant women who contract hepatitis E die from the infection compared with an overall mortality rate of between 0.5 to 2 percent. Hepatitis E is likely responsible for as many as 10 percent of maternal deaths in Southeast Asia.
The study, published on January 6 in the journal American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, is thought to be the first to identify pre-existing characteristics that lead to an increased risk of hepatitis E infection.
“For decades, we’ve been asking why pregnant women who get hepatitis E die at an alarming rate. This research suggests that pre-existing differences could be the key we’ve been seeking,” says study leader Dr. Alain Labrique, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of international health. “Even though women are exposed to similar environmental risk factors, the differences in pre-existing characteristics seem to put some women at a much higher risk of getting infected, sick and dying. These findings could pave the road for stepped-up nutritional monitoring of pregnant women in this part of the world and lead to recommendations for nutritional supplements.”