High prevalence of acute hepatitis E virus infection in pigs in Dutch slaughterhouses

Ingeborg L.A. Boxman*, Linda Verhoef, Petra Y. Dop, Harry Vennema, René A.M. Dirks, Marieke Opsteegh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Hepatitis E is caused by hepatitis E virus (HEV), one of the causes of acute viral hepatitis. Domestic pigs are considered as the main reservoir of HEV-3. The recently reported high prevalence of HEV in liver- and meat products on the Dutch market warranted a cross-sectional prevalence study on HEV infection among 5–6 months old pigs slaughtered in the Netherlands (n = 250). For this, liver, caecum content and blood samples were analyzed for the presence of genomic HEV RNA by RT-PCR. In addition, a serological test was performed to detect HEV IgG. Background information was retrieved on the corresponding farms to evaluate potential risk factors for HEV at pig slaughter age. HEV IgG was detected in sera from 167 pigs (67.6 %). HEV RNA was detected in 64 (25.6 %) caecum content samples, in 40 (16.1 %) serum samples and in 25 (11.0 %) liver samples. The average level of viral contamination in positive samples was log10 4.6 genome copies (gc)/g (range 3.0–8.2) in caecum content, log10 3.3 gc/ml (range 2.4–5.9) in serum and log10 3.2 gc/0.1 g (range 1.7–6.2) in liver samples. Sequence analyses revealed HEV-3c only. Ten times an identical strain was detected in two or three samples obtained from the same pig. Each animal in this study however appeared to be infected with a unique strain. The presence of sows and gilts and welfare rating at the farm of origin had a significant effect (p < 0.05) on the distribution over the four groups representing different stages of HEV infection based on IgG or RNA in caecum and/or serum. The observed proportion of tested pigs with viremia (16 %) was higher than in other reported studies and was interestingly often observed in combination with a high number of HEV genome copies in liver and caecum content as detected by RT-qPCR. Data provided will be useful for risk assessment for food safety of pork products, will provide baseline data for future monitoring of HEV infections in pigs and new thoughts for mitigation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109830
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2022


  • Animals
  • Foodborne
  • HEV
  • Liver
  • Serum
  • Viremia


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