Chronically infected wild boar can transmit genotype 3 hepatitis E virus to domestic pigs
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) causes acute hepatitis E in humans in developing countries, but sporadic and autochthonous cases do also occur in industrialized nations. In Europe, food-borne zoonotic transmission of genotype 3 (gt3) have been associated with the consumption of raw and undercooked products from domestic pig and wild boar. As shown recently, naturally acquired HEVgt3 replicates efficiently in experimentally infected wild boar and is transmissible from wild boar to domestic pigs. Generally, following an acute infection swine suffer from a transient febrile illness and viremia in connection with fecal virus shedding. However, little is known about sub-acute or chronic HEV infections in swine, and how and where HEV survives the immune response. In this paper we describe the incidental finding of a chronic HEVgt3 infection in two naturally infected European wild boar which were raised and housed at FLI over years. The wild boar displayed fecal HEV RNA excretion and viremia over nearly the whole observation period of more than five months. The animal had mounted a substantial antibody response, yet without initial clearance of the virus by the immune system. Further analysis indicated a subclinical course of HEV with no evidence of chronic hepatitis. Additionally, we could demonstrate that this chronic wild boar infection was still transmissible to domestic pigs, which were housed together with this animal. Sentinel pigs developed fecal virus shedding accompanied by seroconversion. Wild boar should therefore be considered as important reservoir for transmission of HEVgt3 in Europe.