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Hepatitis E in Europe — are pigs or pork the problem?

Public release date: 3-Sep-2007

Hepatitis E virus infections can be fatal in pregnant women, but until recently doctors thought the disease was confined to China, India and developing countries. Now Europeans are also contracting the disease here, say scientists today (Monday 3 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.

Hepatitis E virus is one of the few viruses which has been shown to be transmitted directly from animals through food. It was recently thought to be confined to developing countries, and although scientists are still unsure exactly how it spreads to people, direct contact with pigs or eating contaminated pork products is a likely route.

Far fewer cases of Hepatitis E virus are reported than actually occur, since doctors currently rarely ask for the relevant diagnostic tests in many industrialized countries. Although they do not yet know the exact route for most infections, the scientists do know that these viruses can infect people if they eat infected pig’s livers without cooking them.

Genetic material from Hepatitis E viruses has already been detected in pig livers being offered for sale in Japan, USA and the Netherlands, proving that European pigs are in contact with Hepatitis E. Wild boar products could present a similar risk.

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