Department of Internal Medicine, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seongnam, Korea.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is an emerging pathogen associated with acute viral hepatitis, and HEV is becoming increasingly recognized. Approximately 2% of acute viral hepatitis is caused by HEV, and 18 cases of hepatitis E have been reported in Korea. Of these cases, only two have involved a history of travel from India, which suggests that they were imported cases. The remaining reported cases include a sporadic case of acute hepatitis E with genotype 4 HEV isolates and identification of the full genome sequence, as well as another case of genotype 4 HEV hepatitis that developed after ingestion of the raw bile juice of a wild bear living on a mountain in southern Korea. Moreover, genotype 3 HEV, which shows close genetic homology with swine HEV in Korea, has been detected in collected human serum samples. Therefore, genotypes 3 and 4 HEV are currently circulating in the Korean community and may be related to zoonotic transmission and food-borne infection. The reported anti-HEV seroprevalence of 17% to 27% in the Korean population suggests that HEV infection has been autochthonously circulating, thereby resulting in subclinical infection in Korea. Given the discrepancies among anti-HEV assays, the diagnosis of hepatitis E should be made with caution using adequate antibody assays, and HEV RNA should be preferably detected from the stool. Further virological characterization and epidemiological study of the virus are warranted.