The hepatitis E virus, genotype 3, probably coming from pig farms, is causing severe pain and paralysis in increasing numbers of people. RIVM has seen an increase in the number of infections in the Netherlands, and the ECDC finds the same in Europe as a whole. Wim van der Poel, a virologist at Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (formerly CVI), advocates developing a vaccine.
Van der Poel conducts research on zoonoses, viruses that can be transmitted from animals to humans. ‘This virus has been known for more than 15 years to be a zoonosis, mainly transmitted from pigs,’ he says. ‘I gave the first description of the virus for the Netherlands in 2000.’
Now more than half the pigs in the Netherlands are infected with this virus. It is probably transmitted through unheated food containing pork, such as pâté and liver sausage. But Van der Poel says more research is needed on its transmission. ‘The routes hepatitis E genotype 3 takes from animal reservoirs to humans are known but the crucial question is which of these routes is really important. You can only take focussed, effective action once you know that. We need to do more research to find this out.’
The scientist sees two possible options for a solution. ‘Firstly, measures in the food production chains to inactivate the virus. And secondly, measures to curb the virus in pig farming and other animal reservoirs. One possibility would be vaccines.’