Hepatitis E virus (HEV) causes the hepatitis E, it is a small, non-enveloped, positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus with an icosahedral capsid. It is one of five known human hepatitis virus (A, B, C, D, and E). HEV is the major cause of sporadic hepatitis, as well as epidemic hepatitis. Hepatitis E is an enterically transmitted infection that is typically self-limited. The HEV has a fecal-oral transmission route and can spread by the consumption of uncooked or undercooked meat or fecally contaminated water within endemic areas. The injection of hepatitis E is self-limited and often leads to an acute infection, it has a low mortality rate in western areas. But the mortality rate of immunocompromised patients (pregnant women, for example) is relatively high as HEV brings a high risk of developing chronic hepatitis. In the year of 2013, HEV has been reported to infect about 23million people all over the world.
Fig.1 Electron micrograph of hepatitis E virus.
HEV are 27-34nm in diameter and are non-enveloped. It has been classified in the genus Orthohepevirus, family Hepeviridae. The genome of HEV is a positive-sense, single-stranded RNA that is approximately 7.2k bases length. The viral genome contains 3 open reading frames (ORFs,1-3), and 5' and 3' cis acting elements, which play important roles in the replication and transcription of HEV. These three ORFs are partly overlapping. The ORF1 encodes a methyltransferase, protease, replicase and helicase; ORF2 codes for the caspid protein; and ORF3 codes for a protein whose function is still undefined. Structure and life cycle of HEV are still remains unknown as it is hard to find a reliable in vitro propagation system. All the isolated HEV belongs to a single serotype, and four major genotypes have been identified. Genotype 1 has been classified into five subtypes, genotype 2 have two subtypes, ten for genotype 3 and seven for genotype 4.
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