Just in time for summer, there’s a new warning out in Britain over the “Brexit virus,” so named because the pork sausages making people sick are said to originate mostly from pig farms in France, Holland, Germany and Denmark.
In other words, the danger is coming from countries in the European Union that Britain through “Brexit” has already voted to depart. At issue is pork from the heart of the EU that carries a new strain of hepatitis E (HEV) in about 10 percent of sausages.
Public Health England figures the HEV is infecting about 60,000 people a year in the United Kingdom with most experiencing flu-like symptoms. However, the number of severe cases tripled between 2010 and 2016 to reach 1,244. The virus attacks the liver and nerves and is especially dangerous for those with compromised immune systems and people who’ve had organ transplants or cancer.
After media reports in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued guidance on pork “to remind consumers of our advice about cooking pork thoroughly.”
“We always advise that whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, (and) the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear,” the FSA warning says. “This will reduce the risk of illness from harmful foodborne bacteria and viruses like hepatitis E. The risk from acquiring hepatitis E virus from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products is low.”
Hepatitis E is an illness of the liver that can infect humans and other animals. Most people will clear the virus without any symptoms. FSA said some people who have suppressed immune systems may find the infection hard to fight, which in turn can cause chronic inflammation of the liver.
The UK’s National Pig Association acknowledges that pigs are a natural reservoir for the virus and it is present at some level with pig populations worldwide.
The Food Standards Agency believes 93 percent of British pig herds are infected with the virus with 6 percent producing HEV at levels high enough to infect humans.
Those numbers translate into estimates that the virus is present in one in 10 pork sausages sold in England and Wales. It’s also still more likely that illnesses are being caused by imported products than British pork.
The recommended cooking time is 20 minutes until a 70 degrees C (158 F) internal temperature is reached.
The liver disease is common in developing countries where it is passed from person to person in places with poor sanitation. A British doctor says the virus can have a “devastating effect” on people in poor health or with existing liver conditions.
Key facts from 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, and 56 600 hepatitis E-related deaths.
- Hepatitis E is usually self-limiting but some cases may develop into fulminant hepatitis, including acute liver failure.
- 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.
- A vaccine to prevent hepatitis E virus infection has been developed and is licensed in China, but is not yet available elsewhere.
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