Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the major cause of epidemic and sporadic hepatitis globally. Outbreaks are associated with fecal contamination of drinking water, yet the environmental reservoir of HEV between epidemics remains unclear. In contrast to neighboring countries, where epidemics and sporadic disease co-occur, HEV-endemic communities in rural Bangladesh seldom report outbreaks; sporadic hepatitis E is reported from urban and rural areas of the country. Besides typical enteric risk factors, other routes for HEV infection and disease are unclear. We conducted monthly household surveillance of a southern Bangladeshi community of 23,500 people to find incident cases of acute hepatitis E over a 22 month period. An algorithm was used to capture 279 candidate cases, of which 46 were confirmed acute HEV infections. An exploratory case-control study was conducted to identify putative risk factors for disease. Nearly 70% of cases were over 15 years old. Female gender seemed protective (OR:0.34) against hepatitis E in this conservative setting, as was the use of sanitary latrines (OR:0.28). Socioeconomic status or animal exposures were not significant predictors of disease, although outdoor employment and recent urban travel were. Unexpectedly, recent contact with a "jaundiced" patient and a history of injection exposure in the 3 months prior to disease (OR:15.50) were significant. Susceptible individuals from "endemic" communities share similar enteric exposure risks to those commonly associated with tourists from non-endemic countries. This study also raises the novel possibility of parenteral and person-to-person transmission of HEV in non-epidemic, sporadic disease settings.
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