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Detection of Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) From Porcine Livers in Southeastern Germany and High Sequence Homology to Human HEV Isolates

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Detection of Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) From Porcine Livers in Southeastern Germany and High Sequence Homology to Human HEV Isolates

Jürgen J Wenzel et al. J Clin Virol.

Abstract

Background: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) has been identified as an emerging cause of infectious hepatitis over the last years in developed countries. In contrast to travel associated hepatitis E, zoonotic sources of infection are suspected for autochthonous cases in Europe.

Objective: Since pigs are known reservoirs of HEV, we tested porcine livers sold as food in Southeastern Germany for the presence of hepatitis E virus RNA.

Study design: We purchased 200 porcine liver samples in 81 butcher shops and grocery stores in Regensburg, Germany. Nucleic acid preparations were tested for the presence of HEV RNA by quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR). HEV isolates from positive samples were characterized by partial sequencing of ORF1 and ORF2 regions in the HEV genome and by phylogenetic analysis.

Results: Specimens from eight (4%) of 200 purchased pig livers had detectable HEV RNA amounts. Sequence determination and phylogenetic analysis allowed two novel isolates to be classified as HEV genotype 3, subgenotype 3a (swR437) and 3c (swR269), respectively. Both novel swine HEV isolates showed high sequence homology to isolates obtained from patients with acute HEV infection from the same geographic region.

Conclusions: These results support the suggested role of undercooked pig products in food as a source of zoonotic HEV infection for humans. It remains to be clarified if this mechanism of transmission is responsible for the surprisingly high anti-HEV IgG prevalence recently observed in some European countries and the USA.

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