Pork products associated with carrying hepatitis E virus in Britain

Pork products that are being sold at a leading supermarket has been associated with carrying a deadly hepatitis virus warns the researchers at the Public Health England (PHE).

The virus – hepatitis E, could have already infected shoppers warns the agency. The PHE researchers looked at the shopping habits among those who presented with the hepatitis E infection and found that they had all bought their hams and sausages from a single store marked as “supermarket X). This strain of the virus has not been detected in the British pigs, the agency found and these infections may be coming from products made outside the UK from Holland, Germany and other mainland European countries. Also PHE refuses to blame the supermarket that is selling these products and along with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) they are not naming the store from where the products have come from.

Image Credit: Riggsby / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Riggsby / Shutterstock

There have been several cases of Hepatitis E that have emerged without travel to other nations since 2010 said the PHE. The increase in number of cases has been significant with 368 in 2010 to1243 in 2016. Hepatitis E leads to a mild and short-term infection in most persons unless the patient already has a pre-existing liver disease or is pregnant.

Due to this rise in number of cases the PHE researchers analyzed 60 of the infected persons. These persons had no history of travel outside UK from where they could have acquired the infection. The study lasted between 2014 and 2016. The study found that between 150,000 and 200,000 people in the UK are infected with hepatitis E virus annually. The final report of the study finds that the implicated pork products include pork sausages that need to be cooked before consumption and also ready-to-eat pre-packed ham products. The supermarket in question is using their own brand of sausages and these could be associated with the infection.

According to a spokeswoman from FSA, all aspects of the infection and its spread is being reviewed at present. She said there is little risk to acquire the infection from eating thoroughly cooked pork. This means thorough steaming of the products until the meat does not remain pink anymore and juices run clear she said.

Hepatitis E virus

Hepatitis E is a viral infection of the liver that causes inflammation. The virus is a RNA virus of which there are found “genotypes”. Of these, genotype 1 is found in Asia and Africa; gentoytpe 2 in Mexico, Chad and Nigeria; genotype 3 has been found to exist almost worldwide and genotype 4 is found in Asia.

Hepatitis E is spread via the fecal-oral route. This means the infection is acquired when a person consumes water or food that has been contaminated with feces containing hepatitis E. Hepatitis E can therefore transmitted if a person eats food prepared by an infected person who has not washed their hands after using the bathroom, for example. Outbreaks of the virus usually occur after monsoons and heavy downpours that disrupt water supplies.

Symptoms of hepatitis E infection include nausea, mild flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain, vomiting and aching joints and muscles, jaundice and fatigue. In most cases, symptoms take three to eight weeks to develop and then last for days or weeks to follow. Lover damage, fibrosis and cirrhosis occurs in immunocompromised individuals. The virus is particularly dangerous in pregnant women, in whom an acute form of the infection can lead to death in 20% of cases.

Hepatitis E is diagnosed using a blood test that can detect antibodies the body has produced against the virus.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E infection, although treatment with ribavarin has been shown to help clear the virus in chronic cases.


Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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