Hepatitis E virus is highly resistant to alcohol-based disinfectants

J Hepatol. 2022 May;76(5):1062-1069. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2022.01.006. Epub 2022 Jan 24.


Background & aims: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis worldwide and is mainly transmitted via the fecal-oral route or through consumption of contaminated food products. Due to the lack of efficient cell culture systems for the propagation of HEV, limited data regarding its sensitivity to chemical disinfectants are available. Consequently, preventive and evidence-based hygienic guidelines on HEV disinfection are lacking.

Methods: We used a robust HEV genotype 3 cell culture model which enables quantification of viral infection of quasi-enveloped and naked HEV particles. For HEV genotype 1 infections, we used the primary isolate Sar55 in a fecal suspension. Standardized quantitative suspension tests using end point dilution and large-volume plating were performed for the determination of virucidal activity of alcohols (1-propanol, 2-propanol, ethanol), WHO disinfectant formulations and 5 different commercial hand disinfectants against HEV. Iodixanol gradients were conducted to elucidate the influence of ethanol on quasi-enveloped viral particles.

Results: Naked and quasi-enveloped HEV was resistant to alcohols as well as alcohol-based formulations recommended by the WHO. Of the tested commercial hand disinfectants only 1 product displayed virucidal activity against HEV. This activity could be linked to phosphoric acid as an essential ingredient. Finally, we observed that ethanol and possibly non-active alcohol-based disinfectants disrupt the quasi-envelope structure of HEV particles, while leaving the highly transmissible and infectious naked virions intact.

Conclusions: Different alcohols and alcohol-based hand disinfectants were insufficient to eliminate HEV infectivity with the exception of 1 commercial ethanol-based product that included phosphoric acid. These findings have major implications for the development of measures to reduce viral transmission in clinical practice.

Lay summary: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) showed a high level of resistance to alcohols and alcohol-based hand disinfectants. The addition of phosphoric acid to alcohol was essential for virucidal activity against HEV. This information should be used to guide improved hygiene measures for the prevention of HEV transmission.

Keywords: alcohol; disinfection; hepatitis E virus (HEV); inactivation; suspension assay.

MeSH terms

  • Disinfectants* / pharmacology
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Hand Sanitizers*
  • Hepatitis E virus* / genetics
  • Hepatitis E*
  • Humans


  • Disinfectants
  • Hand Sanitizers
  • Ethanol