Hepatitis E in pigs

What is hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is a viral liver disease of humans which can be carried by pigs and other animals. Recent studies have shown a rise in the prevalence of hepatitis E on a global scale, but this may partly be due to increasing interest in viral surveillance.  

Hepatitis E (HEV) virus comprises four genotypes (G1-4), each with a different geographical distribution and host range. While G1 and G2 infect humans only, G3 and G4 are contagious to humans from animals actively infected with the virus (viraemic animals). Studies have demonstrated a potential link between pigs and human cases of HEV, but this is thought to be of low risk to human health. 

What are the clinical signs and risk factors?

  • Pigs do not show clinical signs of infection. Please consult with your vet for more information
  • The risk of contracting hepatitis E from pigs is extremely low, but higher in people who are immunocompromised or pregnant
  • Infection is generally through contact with faeces or infected meat which is raw or undercooked
  • Zoonotic viral infection in developed countries is mainly associated with direct contact with viraemic animals, such as pigs. Whereas, in developing countries, the faecal contamination of water supplies acts as the major route of human infection
  • The mortality rate from contracting the virus is low (around 1%), but this can be higher in pregnant (up to 25%) and immunosuppressed individuals

How can it be prevented?

The UK pig industry has implemented several controls to reduce the risk of spreading zoonotic agents and cross-contamination. This includes:

  • Stringent biosecurity at farm-level and cleaning and disinfection
  • All livestock lorries to be cleaned and disinfected post-loading
  • Strict lairage management practices at the abattoir, such as reducing the mixing of batches and regular cleaning to prevent the build-up of faeces
  • High hygiene practices implemented during the slaughter process

Cooking to reduce the risk of hepatitis E

For current recommendations on how to cook pork and products containing pork, please visit the FSA website.

Grilling or frying sausages until they are well browned and firm inside, with no traces of pink meat, usually results in centre temperatures in excess of 85°C. However, it is best to use a meat thermometer to be sure.

In addition, effective handwashing and hygiene precautions in the kitchen are essential to prevent foodborne illness through the handling of raw meat or cross-contamination of cooked food by raw food.