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Hepatitis E Virus in Pork

The discovery of infectious hepatitis E virus in retail pork products may help explain the purported association between liver failure and pork consumption.

October 8, 2010 |
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You’ve probably heard of hepatitis A, which you can get traveling in the third world. Then we discovered hepatitis B, which is often sexually transmitted, and then we discovered hepatitis C, which we can get from IV drug use. That’s not what your liver’s supposed to look like.
Well, we’re up to hepatitis E virus, now, and its mode of transmission was just figured out. From the CDC this year: much meat; much malady. It is now known that hepatitis E is a zoonotic disease, an animal-to-human disease, and pigs are the reservoirs of the hepatitis E virus.
It all started years ago when Japanese researchers linked hepatitis E infection with the consumption of grilled pork liver. They went to the grocery stores, tested pig livers and indeed found the virus in 2% of the meat. But that’s Japan, so U.S. researchers tried grocery stores here and found the virus in more than 10% of the meat off the shelves.
This was the first report demonstrating that commercial pig livers from grocery stores contain infectious hepatitis E virus. The results from this study raise additional public health concerns over pork safety and the risk of Hepatitis E virus infection.
Just because there’s infectious virus in retail meat, doesn’t mean it could survive cooking, though. Well, unfortunately it seems that some virus would most likely survive the internal temperatures of rare-cooked meat.
Yeah, but who eats pig liver? What about other pork products? Well, just this year a more extensive survey of pig tissues was carried out, and indeed they found the virus in the animals’ bloodstream, so suspect it can get basically anywhere in the meat. In fact it’s possible that the relatively high exposure rates found in normal blood donors in the United States and other countries, may be a result of individuals consuming hepatitis E virus contaminated pork.
So researchers decided to do a cross country comparison: mortality from liver disease versus the consumption of pig meat. As a kinda control, they first looked at liver disease mortality and alcohol consumption, because, we know that alcohol is toxic to the liver. and indeed they found a clear relationship: the countries with the highest alcohol consumption tended to be the countries with the highest mortality from liver disease. No surprise there.
Then they looked at pork, and found an even tighter correlation. Death rates from liver failure were even more closely related to pork consumption than they were to even alcohol consumption. Just so vegetarians don’t get cocky, though, once someone is infected through pork they may then transmit the infection through their feces to other people. So if you live with someone who likes their pork a little pink in the middle, make sure they wash their hands after using the toilet.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on pork. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

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  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on pork. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • C_etude

    THANK GOD for Hepatitis E – proud sinning of eating pork! 

  • Tricia Palazzo

    Just enough information in these videos, thank you I can take it all in without getting too bogged down with information….

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thanks so much for that feedback. I’m always struggling with how much depth to put into each. I feel like I could do an hour on each little bit, but realize few would watch them!

  • Mo s

    Dr. Michael, would you be amazed if this was already known around 1400-1500 years ago?

  • tavit

    I always hated pork liver when I was a child

  • half-deaf-and-half-blind

    Thank you for the “transcription” function on this site. For me it is easier and faster to read than to watch&listen a video.