The hepatitis E virus (HEV) is one of the most common causes of hepatitis worldwide. HEV is also widespread in many developed countries, where the number of infections is steadily increasing. In those countries, the virus is transmitted mainly through consumption of undercooked or raw food or through contact with animals. Especially, pigs serve as a main reservoir of HEV. Here, we investigated the prevalence of HEV RNA in pork livers and pork meat products to assess the actual risk of HEV infection through food consumption in Germany. A total of 131 pork products were collected from grocery stores and butcher shops between October 2019 and February 2020 and screened for HEV RNA using nested PCR and subsequent sequencing. Overall, 10% of the samples were positive for HEV, including pork livers (5%), spreadable liver sausages (13%) and liver pâté samples (15%). Sequence analyses indicated that the large majority of HEV strains belonged to subtype HEV-3c, representing the most frequent subtype in Germany. One sample belonged to subtype HEV-3f. Further sequence analysis revealed large sequence variation between the samples; however, most of the mutations identified were synonymous. Although infectivity of the virus was not tested, the results suggest a considerable risk of HEV infection through food consumption. Therefore, preventive measures should be taken according to a One Health approach.
Keywords: Europe; Germany; hepatitis E; meat; pork products; zoonosis.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Viral Hepatitis published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.