Hepatitis E virus: foodborne, waterborne and zoonotic transmission

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013 Sep 25;10(10):4507-33. doi: 10.3390/ijerph10104507.


Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is responsible for epidemics and endemics of acute hepatitis in humans, mainly through waterborne, foodborne, and zoonotic transmission routes. HEV is a single-stranded, positive-sense RNA virus classified in the family Hepeviridae and encompasses four known Genotypes (1-4), at least two new putative genotypes of mammalian HEV, and one floating genus of avian HEV. Genotypes 1 and 2 HEVs only affect humans, while Genotypes 3 and 4 are zoonotic and responsible for sporadic and autochthonous infections in both humans and several other animal species worldwide. HEV has an ever-expanding host range and has been identified in numerous animal species. Swine serve as a reservoir species for HEV transmission to humans; however, it is likely that other animal species may also act as reservoirs. HEV poses an important public health concern with cases of the disease definitively linked to handling of infected pigs, consumption of raw and undercooked animal meats, and animal manure contamination of drinking or irrigation water. Infectious HEV has been identified in numerous sources of concern including animal feces, sewage water, inadequately-treated water, contaminated shellfish and produce, as well as animal meats. Many aspects of HEV pathogenesis, replication, and immunological responses remain unknown, as HEV is an extremely understudied but important human pathogen. This article reviews the current understanding of HEV transmission routes with emphasis on food and environmental sources and the prevalence of HEV in animal species with zoonotic potential in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Hepatitis E / transmission*
  • Hepatitis E / virology
  • Hepatitis E virus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Zoonoses*