Seroprevalence study in forestry workers from eastern Germany using novel genotype 3- and rat hepatitis E virus-specific immunoglobulin G ELISAs

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the causative agent of an acute self-limiting hepatitis in humans. In industrialized countries, autochthonous cases are linked to zoonotic transmission from domestic pigs, wild boar and red deer. The main route of human infection presumably is consumption of contaminated meat. Farmers, slaughterers and veterinarians are expected to be risk groups as they work close to potentially infected animals. In this study, we tested four Escherichia coli-expressed segments of the capsid protein (CP) of a German wild boar-derived HEV genotype 3 strain for their diagnostic value in an indirect immunoglobulin G (IgG) ELISA. In an initial validation experiment, a carboxyterminal CP segment spanning amino acid (aa) residues 326-608 outperformed the other segments harbouring aa residues 112-608, 326-660 and 112-335. Based on this segment, an indirect ELISA for detection of anti-HEV IgG antibodies in human sera was established and validated using a commercial line immunoassay as reference assay. A total of 563 sera from forestry workers of all forestry oYces of Brandenburg, eastern Germany and 301 sera of blood donors from eastern Germany were surveyed using these assays. The commercial test revealed seroprevalence rates of 11% for blood donors and 18% for forestry workers. These rates are in line with data obtained by the in-house test (12 and 21%). Hence, the in-house test performed strikingly similar to the commercial test (sensitivity 0.9318, specificity 0.9542). An initial screening of forestry worker and blood donor sera with a corresponding CP segment of the recently discovered Norway rat-associated HEV revealed several strong positive sera exclusively in the forestry worker panel. Future investigations have to prove the performance of this novel IgG ELISA in large-scale seroepidemiological studies. In addition, the observed elevated seroprevalence in a forestry worker group has to be con-firmed by studies on groups of forestry workers from other regions. The epidemiological role of ratHEV in human disease should be assessed in a large-scale study of risk and non-risk groups. -® Springer-Verlag 2011



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