Background: The source and route of autochthonous hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections are not clearly established in industrialized countries despite evidence that it is a zoonosis in pigs. We investigated the role of figatellu, a traditional pig liver sausage widely eaten in France and commonly consumed raw, as a source of HEV infection.
Methods: A case-control study was conducted of 3 patients who presented autochthonous hepatitis E and 15 members of their 3 different families. Anti-HEV immunoglobulin G and immunoglobulin M antibody testing was performed with commercial assays. HEV RNA was detected in serum samples of patients and in pig liver sausages by means of real-time polymerase chain reaction and sequenced by means of in-house sequencing assays. Genetic links between HEV sequences were analyzed.
Results: Acute or recent HEV infection, defined by detection of anti-HEV immunoglobulin M antibodies and/or HEV RNA, was observed in 7 of 13 individuals who ate raw figatellu and 0 of 5 individuals who did not eat raw figatellu (P=.041). Moreover, HEV RNA of genotype 3 was recovered from 7 of 12 figatelli purchased in supermarkets, and statistically significant genetic links were found between these sequences and those recovered from patients who ate raw figatellu.
Conclusion: Our findings strongly support the hypothesis of HEV infection through ingestion of raw figatellu.