July 10, 2020

Study Looks at Hepatitis E Contamination in Pigs

A new study published in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases looks at the prevalence of hepatitis E contamination in pigs used for food in the United States. The hepatitis E virus RNA was found in 6.3% of serum samples from market-weight pigs at 25 slaughterhouses in 10 states. The blood of these pigs may contaminate the pork supply chains in this country, according to the study.

Study Looks at Hepatitis E Contamination in Pigs

Hepatitis E does not get a lot of attention in the U.S., certainly not in comparison to hepatitis A. It is a self-limiting disease that doesn’t cause chronic infection. It is usually associated with contaminated water supply in countries that have poor sanitation practices. There is no vaccine against this virus.

Symptoms of hepatitis E are similar to hepatitis A symptoms. They include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark urine, clay-colored stools, and joint pain. Most people recover completely after this infection, but pregnant women and people with chronic liver disease can become seriously ill. There is a 10 to 30% risk of mortality in the third trimester among pregnant women if they contract this illness. This infection can also be fatal in people with liver disease and anyone who has had an organ transplant and is on immunosuppressive therapy.

In the study, a set of archived serum samples from 22,940 market-weight pigs from those 25 slaughterhouses were collected for an unrelated study looking for Toxoplasma and Trichinella. The samples were collected on the kill floor.

The researchers found that about 40% of U.S. slaughterhouse pigs were seropositive for the hepatitis E virus, which indicates prior infection of the pigs on farms. But despite this high seropositivity, only 6% of these pigs had detectable levels of the hepatitis E virus, most likely because the virus is transient.

The hepatitis E contamination in pigs study ends by stating that to prevent foodborne hepatitis E infections, pork should always be properly cooked, and tested with an accurate food thermometer, before consumption. A final internal temperature of 71°C (159.8°F) will inactivate infectious hepatitis E.

 

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