Hepatitis E virus and related viruses in wild, domestic and zoo animals: a review.
Hepatitis E is a human disease mainly characterized by acute liver illness, which is caused by infection with the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Large hepatitis E outbreaks have been described in developing countries; however, the disease is also increasingly recognized in industrialized countries. Mortality rates up to 25% have been described for pregnant women during outbreaks in developing countries. In addition, chronic disease courses could be observed in immunocompromised transplant patients. Whereas the HEV genotypes 1 and 2 are mainly confined to humans, genotypes 3 and 4 are also found in animals and can be zoonotically transmitted to humans. Domestic pig and wild boar represent the most important reservoirs for these genotypes. A distinct subtype of genotype 3 has been repeatedly detected in rabbits and a few human patients. Recently, HEV genotype 7 has been identified in dromedary camels and in an immunocompromised transplant patient. The reservoir animals get infected with HEV without showing any clinical symptoms. Besides these well-known animal reservoirs, HEV-specific antibodies and/or the genome of HEV or HEV-related viruses have also been detected in many other animal species, including primates, other mammals and birds. In particular, genotypes 3 and 4 infections are documented in many domestic, wildlife and zoo animal species. In most cases, the presence of HEV in these animals can be explained by spillover infections, but a risk of virus transmission through contact with humans cannot be excluded. This review gives a general overview on the transmission pathways of HEV to humans. It particularly focuses on reported serological and molecular evidence of infections in wild, domestic and zoo animals with HEV or HEV-related viruses. The role of these animals for transmission of HEV to humans and other animals is discussed.