The hepatitis E virus has been found in some samples from pork products sold in Cape Town. Scientists are warning consumers to make sure any meat from pigs is cooked thoroughly, reports TimesLIVE.

Scientists who bought 144 food samples from supermarkets and butcheries around Cape Town found it in two pork liver spreads.

Stephen Korsman of the National Health Laboratory Service said the spreads came from two different supermarket chains in 2014. They were among five samples of liver spread tested.

Reporting his findings in the August 2019 edition of the SA Medical Journal, Korsman said more than one in four Western Cape residents had hepatitis E antibodies, and the study had pointed to a “plausible infective source”.

“Pork-containing food products were purchased from supermarkets and butcheries around the Cape Town metropolitan area.

“HEV detection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was performed, and an amplified viral genome fragment was sequenced from positive samples. Phylogenetic analysis was done on the sequenced fragment.

“HEV was detected by PCR in 2/144 food samples – both were liver spread samples. One genome fragment sequence was obtained, which was closely related to HEV sequences obtained from humans in Cape Town. HEV can be found in pork-containing meat products available for sale” states Korsman.

The conclusion of these findings states that, “HEV can be found in pork-containing meat products available for sale in Cape Town, suggesting that these products could be a potential source of HEV transmission in our geographical area. Meat of pig origin should be thoroughly cooked before being consumed.”

Pigs in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape have been found with the virus, reports Times Live.  The journal article stipulates that HEV is “common in pigs in industrialised countries”.

“The risk of contracting the virus by way of pork products is higher when consuming undercooked or raw [meat],” he said. “Cooking at 71ºC for 20 minutes has been found to fully inactivate the virus.”

The virus is normally contained in drinking water that is contaminated with faeces.

Contracting hepatitis E can result in jaundice, appetite loss, nausea and in some cases, acute liver failure. Women who are pregnant and individuals with a compromised immune system are particularly at risk.

Korsman and colleagues from the University of Cape Town said there were other possible sources of hepatitis E that could explain the high level of antibodies in the Western Cape population, reports Times Live.

The report stipulates that another source of  HEV is, “filter-feeding shellfish, as they feed on sewage entering the ocean. Such shellfish are regularly eaten in Cape Town.”

Other seafoods and raw vegetables are also potential sources, says the report.

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