Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) is an emerging zoonotic disease afflicting developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas where large outbreaks occur due to lack of sanitary drinking water. In developed countries in Europe and the Americas HEV is a zoonotic pathogen shown to pass primarily from pigs and pork products to humans. While generally healthy adults can fight off HEV, in pregnant women there is up to a 30% mortality rate and HEV can cause chronic hepatitis in immunocompromised individuals. There are currently 7 known genotypes within the Orthohepevirus A species (of human health concern). Genotype-1 infects humans and is found in Asia and Africa, genotype 2 also specifically infects humans and is more common in Mexico. Genotypes 3 and 4 are known to infect humans as well as swine, deer, rabbits, and mongoose. Genotypes 5, 6, and 7 infect animals including wild boar and camel. Orthohepevirus B-D infect chickens, bats, and ferrets, respectively, but are not known to infect humans.
Historically HEV has been difficult to propagate in cell culture and animal models were limited to pigs and chickens, limiting much of our understanding of the molecular aspects of HEV infection. Part of our ongoing research focuses on understanding cross species transmission of the virus, the factors required for efficient virus growth, and the creation of better small animal models to study this virus. Using this knowledge we hope to discover more about how HEV interacts with its hosts and create therapies to treat it.