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Imports eyed in 150K to 200K annual Hep E cases in England

With multinational retailer Tesco neither willing to confirm nor deny that it is the “Supermarket X” linked to Hepatitis E infections in an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 British sausage lovers annually, some people are beginning to suspect imported pork products were responsible.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by infection with a virus known as Hepatitis E virus (HEV).
  • Every year, there are an estimated 20 million HEV infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of Hepatitis E.
  • WHO estimates that Hepatitis E caused approximately 44,000 deaths in 2015, accounting for 3.3 percent of the mortality due to viral hepatitis.
  • The virus is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, principally via contaminated water.
  • Hepatitis E is found worldwide, but the prevalence is highest in East and South Asia.

Britons are upset that Public Health England (PHE) has named “Supermarket X” as a common denominator in the spread of the virus to United Kingdom consumers, instead of releasing the actual name of the retailer.

The virus causes a mild to short-term infection, unless victims have an existing liver disease or are pregnant. Infections cause flu-like symptoms, yellow coloring of the skin and eyes along with fever, vomiting, loss of appetite and overall tiredness.

Much like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention withholding the fact that Taco Bell was the source of a nationwide foodborne disease outbreak in the United States several years ago, PHE is refusing to name the retailer on the basis that it is not to blame.

For its part, Tesco will only say it is working closely with PHE and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on the situation. The problem goes back several years. The number of Hepatitis E cases actually confirmed by PHE increased to 1,243 in 2016, up from 368 in 2010.

The PHE renewed warnings to the public about the need to completely cook pork sausages and other ready-to-eat pork products before eating them. FSA says once cooked, the risk from eating the pork products are very low. Pork sausages should no longer be pink, and their juices should run clear.

The 150,000 to 200,000 estimate from PHE for annual Hep E cases is based on a study completed in early 2016 but withheld from the public over “sensitivity” issues. The study found the continental practice of collecting the blood of slaughtered pigs and adding it back into meat products after processing without sterilization contributed to the spread of the virus.

UK consumers are on guard at moment over food safety with news of the Hep E infections coming on the heels of a shell egg scandal from Dutch producers using the insecticide fipronil to clean egg houses, contaminating 700,000 table eggs.

Food Safety News ultimately named Taco Bell as CDC’s “Restaurant X.”

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