A marked increase of hepatitis E cases has recently been observed in the Netherlands. Causes of the (re-)emergence of hepatitis E virus (HEV) and exact sources and routes of transmission of HEV infection are currently unknown. We aimed to identify risk factors for HEV seropositivity.
Using the Wantai EIA, 2100 plasma samples of blood donors from all over the Netherlands aged 18-70 years were tested for anti-HEV IgG antibodies. A questionnaire on socio-demographic characteristics, health, and potential risk factors for HEV exposure was sent to these participants.
The overall IgG-seroprevalence was 31% (648/2100) and increased with age. Several food products were independently associated with IgG-seropositivity in a multivariate analysis adjusting for age and gender among 1562 participants who completed the questionnaire: traditional Dutch dry raw sausages called “cervelaat”, “fijnkost”, “salami” and “salametti” which are generally made from raw pork and beef (aOR 1.5; 95%CI 1.2-1.9), frequent consumption of bovine steak (aOR 1.3; 95%CI 1.0-1.7), and frequent consumption of smoked beef (aOR 1.3 95%CI 1.0-1.7). Although not frequently reported, contact with contaminated water was also a risk factor for seropositivity (aOR 2.5; 95%CI 1.5-4.4). Lower seroprevalence was associated with eating raspberries, going out for dinner, and contact with wild animals and dogs.
Several pork food products, mainly dry raw sausages, and contact with contaminated water were associated with past HEV infection in the Netherlands. Further investigation is needed into the prevalence and infectivity of HEV in these risk factor food products, as well as investigation of the production methods and possible origin of HEV-contamination within these sausages, e.g. very small amounts of pork liver, pig-derived blood products as food additive, or the pork muscle tissue.