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NPA welcomes fall in Hepatitis E cases as imported pork again linked to UK cases

21st Aug 2017 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has welcomed figures showing a decline in human Hepatitis E cases in England and Wales.

sausagesFigures published by Public Health England (PHE) showed there were 230 cases of the virus recorded in the second quarter of 2017, compared with 368 in the same quarter of 2016. The fall follows a persistent upward trend in cases of the virus between 2010 and 2016.

The link between the virus and consumption of imported pork again hit the headlines over the weekend. The Sunday Times reported that a leading British supermarket may ‘unwittingly have infected thousands of people with a pig virus that causes liver cirrhosis and neurological damage’.

Consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat and liver is the most common cause of Hepatitis E infection in the EU, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Scientists at PHE traced the shopping habits of infected people and found consumption of own-brand sausages from the retailer, referred to as ‘Supermarket X’ to be a common factor. Two previous PHE studies going back to 2011 also pointed at Supermarket X’s pork products as a key source of the virus.

Studies have shown the meat is likely to have originated elsewhere in the EU, mainly from Holland and Germany. PHE and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have refused to name the supermarket because they say the findings ‘do not infer blame on the supermarket’.

Industry reaction

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “NPA is pleased to see that human cases of HEV in the UK are dropping. However, we recommend that consumers follow advice from the Food Standards Agency that pork and sausages should be cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout, with no pink or red in the centre, to greatly reduce any risk of infection.”

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) pointed out there were other sources of Hepatitis E infections in humans other than pork, including wild boar, deer and shellfish.

It also highlighted the recent fall in cases and said, in comparison to the 1.7 million tonnes of pigmeat consumed in 2016, the level of Hepatitis E infection was ‘extremely small, suggesting that pork remains a safe and nutritious meal choice for UK consumers’.

The BMPA said: “UK pork manufacturers are committed to understanding more about the virus and are supporting further research to develop reliable methods of detection to assist in identifying potential sources of contamination and animal/food treatments to eliminate the virus from the supply chain.”

An FSA spokesperson said the agency was reviewing all aspects of hepatitis E infection with other government departments and industry.

She said: “The risk from acquiring hepatitis E virus (HEV) from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products is low.

“As a precaution, the FSA advises consumers that all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.”

See the NPA's Hepatitis E briefing here

See Pig World's analysis of the truth behind the claim about Hepatitis E and pork here 

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