Tuesday, November 11, 2014

HepE On the Rise in UK: Sausages Partly to Blame?

According to the BBC in an article published today, cases of Hepatitis E have been increasing in England and Wales in over the last few years (see image below).  There were approximately 461 cases of Hepatitis E in those regions from January through June this year, about four times as many cases as there were ten years ago in 2003.

The culprit may be one of the region's traditional dishes:  pork pie (among other transmission routes).  Hepatitis E is widely circulated among pigs, so when their meat is ground and consumed by humans, the virus easily encounters a new susceptible host.  Recent increases in Hepatitis E incidence among the pigs used for food consumption has caused the spillover increase in human cases.

So must all of the UK abstain from pork consumption to avoid contracting the virus?  Not at all!  Pork pies and pork sausages (of which recent evidence suggests one in ten may contain Hepatitis E virus) are perfectly safe to eat as long as they are sufficiently cooked to kill the virus.  The BBC recommends its readers cook their pork meat for at least 20 minutes at 70 degrees Celcius, or until, as one researcher put it, the meat is "caramelized."

The virus infects liver cells and the resulting inflammation of the liver, called "hepatitis," is the body's way of responding to the infection.  However, most cases of hepatitis E produce only mild infection and therefore go undiagnosed.  In fact, HEV transmission through blood donation by unaware carriers is a significant concern.


Original BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-30006977
HEV in prevalence and transmission: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61034-5/abstract

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