An experimental vaccine prevented hepatitis E in all patients who received it in a study, making it a crucial development in combating the “scourge” of the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
More than 112,000 healthy people age 16 to 65 from Jiangsu province in China participated in the 19-month trial of Xiamen, China-based Xiamen Innovax Biotech Co.’s HEV 239 vaccine. None of the patients who got the vaccine had the disease 30 days after the last of three doses was administered, according to the study published in The Lancet medical journal today.
A third of the world’s population has probably been infected with hepatitis E, a waterborne virus linked to poor sanitation, said the researchers, led by Ning-Shao Xia of Xiamen University in China. As many as 26,000 people die every year from the infection, which causes jaundice and fever and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, they said.
“In view of the slow rate of improvement of sanitary conditions in many areas of Asia and Africa, this vaccine might be our best new stopgap in the effort to control the scourge of HEV in many parts of the world,” said Scott Holmberg of the division of viral hepatitis at the CDC in a commentary accompanying the report.
The study participants were divided into two groups of 56,302 people. One group was set to receive the vaccine in three doses over six months. The other group received hepatitis B vaccine.
The adverse effects to HEV 239 were “few and mild,” according to the study, funded by Chinese Provincial Science Funds. Further studies are needed to assess the safety of the drug in children and pregnant women, and to determine how long the vaccine provides protection from the virus, said Holmberg.