Hepatitis E Virus in Pork

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

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 is 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 grocery stores, tested pig livers, and indeed found evidence of the virus in 2% of the meat.

But just because the virus was there doesn’t mean it’s necessarily infectious. 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 about pork safety and the risk of hepatitis E infection.

Just because there’s infectious virus in retail meat, though, doesn’t mean it could survive cooking. 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 among 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 kind of control, they first looked at liver disease mortality and alcohol consumption, because we know 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 is 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 grocery stores, tested pig livers, and indeed found evidence of the virus in 2% of the meat.

But just because the virus was there doesn’t mean it’s necessarily infectious. 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 about pork safety and the risk of hepatitis E infection.

Just because there’s infectious virus in retail meat, though, doesn’t mean it could survive cooking. 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 among 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 kind of control, they first looked at liver disease mortality and alcohol consumption, because we know 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to U.S. Department of Agriculture via flickr

Doctor's Note

For other health hazards associated with pork consumption, check out:
Yersinia in Pork
Ractopamine in Pork
Chronic Headaches and Pork Tapeworms
C. difficile Superbugs in Meat
Avoiding Epilepsy Through Diet

And check out my other videos on pork

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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