Health message clarity from NPA and leading health specialist

Pig industry leaders have moved quickly to add clarity to a media report which linked the possible cause of hepatitis E virus (HEV) to undercooked sausages.

“When HEV is found in pigs, it is typed as group 3, sub-group 1, whereas most human infections are caused by sub-group 2,” said NPA. “So on the rare occasions that humans get HEV, it is not from eating British pigs.”

The report, carried on the BBC, also drew industry criticism for highlighting the suggestion that HEV could be a factor in 1-in-10 sausages and processed pork meat products in England and Wales when that figure had already been questioned by a leading health official, as reported within the same BBC item.

“Reports of 1-in-10 sausages presenting a potential risk of HEV infection if undercooked should be interpreted with caution,” said the head of the joint NHSBT/PHE Blood Borne Virus Unit, Prof Richard Tedder.

“This figure was taken from a small survey (63 sausages), and is unlikely to be representative of the UK as a whole. Given what is known about the prevalence of high viraemia at the time of slaughter in the UK, a more representative figure would be about 1 in 100, or 1% of sausages.”

Prof. Tedder also said that “any risk of infection can be alleviated by ensuring sausages are cooked thoroughly”.

In addition, while presenting the results from an abattoir survey in early 2014, Prof Tedder said two thirds of human infections were from a different group of strains which had “not been found” in UK pigs in recent or previous studies.

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