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J Med Virol. 2010 Jan;82(1):69-76. doi: 10.1002/jmv.21647.

Long-term shedding of hepatitis E virus in the feces of pigs infected naturally, born to sows with and without maternal antibodies.

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School of Veterinary Medicine, Rakuno Gakuen University, Hokkaido, Japan.


Pigs are presumed reservoirs for hepatitis E virus (HEV) transmission to humans. To examine infection kinetics, two litters of domestic pigs (A and B, each containing 10 piglets) infected naturally with HEV were studied until pigs were 6 months old. Maternal IgG and IgA antibodies were detected in litter A piglets, but not in litter B ones. All pigs shed HEV in feces when they were 30-110 days old, and 17 developed viremia at 40-100 days of age. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a highly close sequence of HEV genotype 3 in all pigs. The serum levels of specific IgG and IgA were similar in all pigs, although IgA was not detected in the feces. Interestingly, the onset of both viremia and seroconversion was delayed significantly in litter A pigs. The kinetics of fecal virus shedding was similar in both litters; shedding was not detected after the pigs were 120 days old. The differences in the infection kinetics between litters A and B suggested that maternal antibodies delayed the onset of viremia and seroconversion. Quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction revealed that HEV RNA in feces peaked 10 days after initial shedding of approximately 10(6.0) copies/g. The viral load was much lower in the serum than in the feces. At 200 days of age, HEV RNA was found in the internal organs of 3 out of 13 pigs. These study findings improve the understanding of the dynamics of natural HEV transmission in pigs, which could help in controlling virus transmission from pigs to humans.

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