At least four people died from the hepatitis E virus (HEV), believed to have spread in parts of northern and northeastern Japan during the 1990s, a Tokyo-based hospital researcher said Sunday.

This is the first confirmation of HEV-related deaths in Japan, prompting a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry investigation into the spread of the virus. HEV is usually found in developing countries with high rainfall, poor sanitation and is commonly spread through consumption of water or food contaminated with feces of the virus carriers.

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