Science - November 18, 2009

Pigs spread Hepatitis E virus

Pigs can infect humans with hepatitis E. The virus spreads easily among pig populations, concludes RIVM researcher Martijn Bouwknect, who made his PhD-defence on 13 November in Wageningen.

Many abattoir pigs in the Netherlands are infected with the hepatitis E virus, Bouwknecht contends. The pigs do not display any symptoms most of the time, but they can infect humans. He has established that the virus is spread easily among pigs via their faeces. He has also found traces of genetic material in various organs and muscle tissues of pigs.
Bouwknecht also researched into two exposure routes which affect humans. He found that 6.5 percent of the livers examined in shops contained genetic material of the virus. As a whole, there have been no reports of sickness related to the consumption of pork.
Among vets who had much contact with pigs, eleven percent were infected with the hepatitis E virus. For vets who spent less time in pig pens, six percent were infected.  Furthermore, two out of one hundred Dutch people are infected, as shown by a sample population survey. The RIVM confirms that ten patients are infected by the hepatitis E virus each year.
Bouwknegt advocates extra hygiene measures and vaccinations to stop the virus from spreading so easily among pigs. He graduated under Mart de Jong, professor of Quantitative Veterinary Epidemiology.

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