scientist testing

There is now an “urgent” need to develop a laboratory test to establish whether HEV found in pork is infectious and poses a risk to human health, scientists have warned.

The warning comes in a new report published by the FSA, which noted there had been a “significant” rise in non travel-related cases of hepatitis E, an illness of the liver caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV), since 2010.

HEV was common in the UK pig population and there was evidence many human cases of the disease could be linked to pork consumption, but scientists still had no reliable method to test for infectivity or establish whether cooking meat would kill the bug, the report said. Growth in cell culture “can unambiguously show that a virus is infectious and has the potential for replication” but no HEV cell culture system had been standardised, it added.

A cell culture-based method for assessing HEV infectivity in pork products should therefore be developed “urgently” and used to determine whether cooking kills the virus, and whether HEV detected in foods was infectious and would pose a risk to human health, the report concluded.