British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association

Hepatitis E and Pork – the Facts not the Fiction

There have been reports in the press recently of cases of Hepatitis E from contaminated food products including pork, wild boar, deer and shellfish.

What is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is an illness of the liver caused by Hepatitis E virus (HEV) which can infect both animals and humans. HEV has been around for a long time and the infection usually produces a mild disease, hepatitis E. However, disease symptoms can vary from no apparent symptoms to liver failure.

Normally, the virus infection will clear by itself. However, it has been shown that in individuals with suppressed immune systems, the virus can result in a persistent infection, which in turn can cause chronic inflammation of the liver. In rare cases, it can prove fatal particularly in pregnant women.

How do you get Hepatitis E?

Historically, consumption of undercooked pork liver and raw blood sausage have, unsurprisingly, been linked to Hepatitis E infections in humans, though other possible sources include wild boars, deer and shellfish.

In 2016, people in the UK consumed 1.7 million tonnes of pigmeat. In comparison to the significant quantity of pork consumed, the level of Hepatitis E infection is extremely small, suggesting that pork remains a safe and nutritious meal choice for UK consumers.

The latest government Hepatitis E case figures issued in the Health Protection Report on 11 August 2017 highlight the continuing decline in case numbers which was first noted in 2016 and has continued dropping in 2017.

What is being done to prevent Hepatitis E?

UK pork manufacturers are committed to understanding more about the virus and are supporting further research to develop reliable methods of detection to assist in identifying potential sources of contamination and animal/food treatments to eliminate the virus from the supply chain. 

What can I do to avoid Hepatitis E?

Public Health England have provided the following advice to prevent infections:

  • cook meat and meat products thoroughly
  • avoid eating raw or undercooked meat and shellfish
  • wash hands thoroughly before preparing, serving and eating food

When travelling to countries with poor sanitation:

  • boil all drinking water, including water for brushing teeth
  • avoid eating raw or undercooked meat and shellfish

If you’d like to find further information and resources on Hepatitis E and other issues, you can visit our Health & Nutrition page.

About BMPA

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) is the leading trade association for the meat and meat products industry in the UK.

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