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Hepatol Res. 2012 Sep;42(9):870-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1872-034X.2012.01006.x. Epub 2012 May 9.

Three cases of acute or fulminant hepatitis E caused by ingestion of pork meat and entrails in Hokkaido, Japan: Zoonotic food-borne transmission of hepatitis E virus and public health concerns.

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Abashiri Kosei General Hospital, Abashiri Center for Gastroenterology, Teine Keijinkai Hospital Department of Gastroenterology, Aiiku Hospital Department of General Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, Hokkaido University, Sapporo Department of Medical Sciences, Toshiba General Hospital, Tokyo, Japan.



  In developed countries including Japan, the transmission route of indigenous hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is obscure. Accordingly, public health implications of indigenous HEV infection have not been well addressed. The aim of this study was to clarify the route of transmission of a small outbreak of acute hepatitis E and assess the public health implications of indigenous zoonotic HEV transmission.


  Three patients with non-A, B and C acute hepatitis, two of whom presented in a critical condition, were assessed for HEV infection using polymerase chain reaction and their route of infection; the genome sequences of the infecting HEV were also analyzed. A phylogenetic tree based on the full, or near full, HEV RNA sequences were constructed by neighbor-joining method.


  All three patients ingested grilled pork meat and entrails at the same barbecue restaurant in Abashiri, Hokkaido, Japan. When comparing partial to entire, or nearly entire, nucleotide sequences of HEV detected in these patients, they were 99.9-100% identical to each other. These genotype 4 isolates had great resemblance to the genome sequences of the isolates from the mini-outbreak in 2004 in Kitami, a city adjacent to Abashiri. These Kitami/Abashiri strains were segregated into a single cluster on the phylogenetic tree of HEV genotype 4 indigenous to Japan.


  Indigenous HEV transmission via a zoonotic food-borne route has been demonstrated in Kitami and Abashiri via pork meat and entrails contaminated with virulent HEV strains. Because a similar outbreak can recur in the future, infection sources and distribution routes should be clarified rapidly for public health.

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