Abstract

A suspected hepatitis outbreak occurred in Bondowoso District, East Java Province, Indonesia, in March–May 1998. An investigation was initiated in April 1998, involving a retrospective review of hospital records, a community-based cross-sectional study, and a health service-based case detection and household follow-up. Sera and epidemiological information were collected from 962 individuals: 235 from 3 outbreak-affected communities along the same rural stretch of river, 101 from community controls living distant from the river, 151 cases detected in health centres, 141 family members of the cases, and 334 subjects from neighbouring families. The prevalence of acute hepatitis E virus (HEV), based on anti-HEV IgM, total antibody (Ig) to HEV and polymerase chain reaction (PCR), was significantly (P < 0.00001) higher (52.4%) among the outbreak communities than among the community controls (3%). The background prevalence of HEV, based on anti-HEV IgG, was also significantly (P < 0.00001) higher (47%) among the outbreak communities than among the community controls (3%). None of the 476 sera screened for anti-HAV (hepatitis A virus) IgM was positive. These results indicate that HEV was the aetiological agent responsible for the outbreak. The overall attack rate (AR) for the 3 outbreak-affected communities surveyed was 19%, with AR determined on the basis of clinically recognized, acute jaundice illness. The usage of river water as primary source for bathing, human-waste disposal, and drinking purposes differed significantly (P < 0.00001) between the communities in outbreak areas and those in non-outbreak areas. There is no significant influence attributed to ‘boiling water’ on acute HEV. No climatic influences (flooding or drought) predisposed this instance of epidemic HEV transmission. This outbreak represents the first documented evidence of epidemic HEV transmission in Java, Indonesia.

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