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Hepatitis E outbreak infects more than 6,000 in South Sudan refugee camps

GENEVA A hepatitis E outbreak has killed 111 refugees in South Sudan camps since July, according to the United Nations.

The agency says hepatitis E has become endemic in the region.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards says the influx of people to the camps from neighboring Sudan is believed to be one of the factors in the rapid spread of the contagious, life-threatening inflammatory viral disease of the liver.

Edwards said Friday that the camps have been hit by 6,017 cases of hepatitis E, which is spread through contaminated food and water.

He says the largest number of cases and suspected cases is in the Yusuf Batil camp in Upper Nile state, which houses 37,229 refugees fleeing fighting between rebels and the Sudanese government.

More than 20 million hepatitis E infections occur each year, according to the World Health Organization, in addition to 70,000 deaths from the liver disease. It is often transmitted through fecal contamination of  water, but can also be spread by eating infected animals and blood transfusions. There is no treatment, so prevention is the most effective approach against the disease, according to WHO.

The infection is rare in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.