Thermal stability of hepatitis E virus assessed by a molecular biological approach
BACKGROUND: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a pathogen of emerging concern in industrialized countries. The consumption of wild boar meat has been identified as one risk factor for autochthonous HEV infections. Only limited information is available about thermal stability of HEV, mainly due to the lack of rapid and efficient cell culture systems for measurement of HEV infectivity. METHODS: A molecular biological method was implemented in order to distinguish disassembled from intact viral particles using RNase treatment followed by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. The method was applied to a wild boar liver suspension containing HEV genotype 3. RESULTS: Time-course analyses indicated that the decline of protected RNA could be described by a biphasic model with an initial decrease followed by a stationary phase. The stationary phase was reached after 1 hour at 4 degrees C, 3 days at 22 degrees C and 7 days at 37 degrees C with log reductions of 0.34, 0.45 and 1.24, respectively. Protected RNA was detectable until the end of the experiments at day 50 or 70. Heat exposure for 1 minute resulted in a log reduction of 0.48 at 70 degrees C and increased with higher temperatures to 3.67 at 95 degrees C. Although HEV infectivity titration by inoculation of the liver suspension onto three cell lines did not succeed, the results of the RNase-based method are in accordance with published cell culture-based data. CONCLUSIONS: Measurement of intact viral particles using the RNase-based method may provide data on the stability of RNA viruses when cell culture-based infectivity titrations are not efficient or not available. The method enables processing of large sample numbers and may be suitable to estimate stability of HEV in different types of food.