High sensitivity of domestic pigs to intravenous infection with HEV
Background Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is one major cause of acute clinical hepatitis among humans throughout the world. In industrialized countries an increasing number of autochthonous HEV infections have been identified over the last years triggered by food borne as well as – to a much lower degree – by human to human transmission via blood transfusion. Pigs have been recognised as main reservoir for HEV genotype 3 (HEV-3), and zoonotic transmission to humans through undercooked/raw meat is reported repeatedly. The minimal infectious dose of HEV-3 for pigs is so far unknown. Results The minimum infectious dose of HEV-3 in a pig infection model was determined by intravenous inoculation of pigs with a dilution series of a liver homogenate of a HEV infected wild boar. Seroconversion, virus replication and shedding were determined by analysis of blood and faeces samples, collected over a maximum period of 91 days. A dose dependent incubation period was observed in faecal shedding of viruses employing a specific and sensitive PCR method. Faecal viral shedding and seroconversion was detected in animals inoculated with dilutions of up to 10− 7. This correlates with an intravenously (i.v.) administered infectious dose of only 6.5 copies in 2 ml (corresponding to 24 IU HEV RNA/ml). Furthermore the first detectable shedding of HEV RNA in faeces is clearly dose dependent. Unexpectedly one group infected with a 10− 4 dilution exhibited prolonged virus shedding for more than 60 days suggesting a persistent infection. Conclusion The results indicate that pigs are highly susceptible to i.v. infection with HEV and that the swine model represents the most sensitive infectivity assay for HEV so far. Considering a minimum infectious dose of 24 IU RNA/ml our findings highlights the potential risk of HEV transmission via blood and blood products.