Serologic and Molecular Survey of Hepatitis E Virus in German Deer Populations
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a human pathogen that is primarily transmitted by the fecal-oral route and causes a usually self-limiting acute viral hepatitis. The virus is endemic in developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America and is responsible for sporadic cases in industrialized countries. In western Europe, an increasing number of autochthonous cases have been associated with zoonotic transmissions of HEV from domestic and wild animals. In Germany, animal reservoirs for HEV have been mainly assigned to domestic pigs and wild boars. To investigate the potential role of deer as a reservoir of HEV, we surveyed HEV-specific antibodies and RNA in deer samples from geographic regions in Germany. We sampled red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) during active surveillance in three forest districts in northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony during 2011–12 and 2012–13, respectively. Additionally, archived samples of red, roe, and fallow deer (Dama dama), collected in 2000–01 in German national parks, were included in the study. Antibody prevalence ranged from 2–3.3% in red deer to 5.4–6.8% in roe deer. Viral RNA was detected in red deer and fallow deer at prevalences of 2.0–6.6% and 4.3%, respectively. The investigation confirmed the presence of HEV infections in three deer species in Germany. Red, roe, and fallow deer should be further monitored to assess their role as hosts and potential reservoirs of HEV in Germany.