This runs counter to previous thinking that consuming contaminated water was the main cause. EFSA also revealed the number of reported human cases of the disease had increased tenfold over the past 10 years, to more than 21,000 instances.
A spokesman for EFSA told GlobalMeatNews it was difficult to say if the growing incidence in humans could be attributed to increasing carelessness or lack of basic food safety knowledge in cooking. “Often in these cases, there’s better reporting,” he said. That meant more cases were being identified and this could lead to higher figures.
However, experts from EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards have recommended that member states increase awareness of public health risks associated with raw and undercooked pork meat and advise consumers to cook pork meat thoroughly. They also recommend the development of suitable methods for detecting hepatitis E in food.
Rosina Girones, chair of EFSA’s working group on hepatitis E, said: “Even if it is not as widespread as other foodborne diseases, hepatitis E is a growing concern in the EU. In the past, people thought the main source of infection was drinking contaminated water while travelling outside the EU. But now we know the main source of transmission of the disease in Europe is food.”
Domestic pigs are the main carriers of hepatitis E in the EU. Wild boars can also carry the virus, but meat from these animals is less commonly consumed.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) today (11 July) also published a report on hepatitis E in humans. The study assesses testing, diagnosis and monitoring methods and reviews available epidemiological data.
Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Most people who contract hepatitis E display no or mild symptoms. However, in some cases, especially for those with liver damage or patients with a weak immune system, it can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.