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Co-Circulation of Different Hepatitis E Virus Genotype 3 Subtypes in Pigs and Wild Boar in North-East Germany, 2019

Hepatitis E is a major cause of acute liver disease in humans worldwide. The infection is caused by hepatitis E virus (HEV) which is transmitted in Europe to humans primarily through zoonotic foodborne transmission from domestic pigs, wild boar, rabbits, and deer. HEV belongs to the family Hepeviridae, and possesses a positive-sense, single stranded RNA genome. This agent usually causes an acute self-limited infection in humans, but in people with low immunity, e.g., immunosuppressive therapy or underlying liver diseases, the infection can evolve to chronicity and is able to induce a variety of extrahepatic manifestations. Pig and wild boar have been identified as the primary animal reservoir in Europe, and consumption of raw and undercooked pork is known to pose a potential risk of foodborne HEV infection. In this study, we analysed pig and wild boar liver, faeces, and muscle samples collected in 2019 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, north-east Germany. A total of 393 animals of both species were investigated using quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), conventional nested RT-PCR and sequence analysis of amplification products. In 33 animals, HEV RNA was detected in liver and/or faeces. In one individual, viral RNA was detected in muscle tissue. Sequence analysis of a partial open reading frame 1 region demonstrated a broad variety of genotype 3 (HEV-3) subtypes. In conclusion, the study demonstrates a high, but varying prevalence of HEV RNA in swine populations in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The associated risk of foodborne HEV infection needs the establishment of sustainable surveillance and treatment strategies at the interface between humans, animals, and the environment within a One Health framework.


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