Ad Hoc Group on Foodborne Viral Infections meeting 19 October 2011

Summary of the 6th meeting of the ad hoc group on Foodborne Viral Infections

1. Introduction

At this meeting the Group focussed on Hepatitis E, both in pork products, and in the human population. They also received an update from Cefas on the completion of the investigation of norovirus in oyster harvesting areas and they reviewed the EFSA Scientific Opinion on foodborne viruses.

2. Hepatitis E in pork products

The Group received a presentation by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency which provided an overview of an investigation of Hepatitis E (HEV) contamination through the pork food supply chain (at production, processing and point of sale) in England. The study had been carried out under the VITAL project. The Group discussed the findings of the study and similar studies in France and Germany and considered the potential route for HEV transmission from smoked and undercooked pork products.

3. Hepatitis E virus in humans

The Group received a presentation on HEV in humans, based on work carried out by the HPA. They heard that HEV was not recognised until the 1980’s and was originally considered to be an imported disease. However, in 2000 studies suggested that acute Hepatitis E infection was being acquired within the UK. Studies were outlined which had investigated the evidence of transmission through food products where people had become infected after consuming raw or undercooked meat, meat products and shellfish. Information was provided from a serological study of HEV in England based on 2731 samples Approximately 13% of samples had HEV antibodies with more amongst the older age groups. Transmission routes were discussed, including the possible role of blood transfusion.

4. Investigation into the prevalence, distribution and levels of norovirus titre in oyster harvesting areas in the UK
The Group were updated on the results from this study which had been completed in August 2011. The study is due to be made public shortly with a stakeholder meeting in November.

They also reviewed the EFSA Scientific Opinion on the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses.

5. Work Programme

Members agreed to consider emerging viruses at their next meeting and asked for information on the work of the HAIRS (Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance) group in assessing emerging virus risks. An update on the VITAL project was scheduled for the next meeting along with discussions on human surveillance and analytical detection methods.