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Hepatitis E virus in food

 

What is Hepatitis E virus?

Hepatitis E virus is a virus that can be found in the gut of some animals and in people. There are many different hepatitis viruses but only Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E viruses can cause foodborne illness.

What illness does it cause?

Hepatitis E (an infection of the gut and liver). This illness is a nationally notifiable disease and must be reported to health authorities.

What are the symptoms?

Many people infected with the Hepatitis E virus show no symptoms.

Symptoms range from mild to severe and include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Symptoms usually start within 40 days of exposure to the virus, but the timing can range from 15 to 64 days. The symptoms usually last for around 2–6 weeks.

Unlike other types of hepatitis, Hepatitis E generally does not usually cause long-term liver disease.

Who can get sick?

Anyone can get infected with Hepatitis E virus but pregnant women, the elderly, people with weak immune systems or people with liver disease may get more seriously ill.

Where does it come from?

The virus can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) of infected animals or people, for example from contact with livestock or sewerage or poor handwashing. It can also be transferred to food and equipment from blood or other body fluids of an infected person.

Common foods that can be contaminated with Hepatitis E virus include pig meat (pork) and liver and raw or undercooked shellfish. People who travel to developing countries where sanitation is poor may pick up Hepatitis E virus.

How can people get sick?

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food or water, especially undercooked pork and shellfish
  • From infected people transferring the virus to food, cutlery and other things they touch or somehow get body fluids on
  • An infected pregnant woman can pass the virus to her unborn baby

How can illness be prevented?

  • Cook food thoroughly, especially pork and products containing pork (e.g. pâté and sausages), ideally so that the thickest part of the food reaches 75°C or hotter
  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • Don’t share food, cutlery and drinks with other people
  • When travelling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared using contaminated water
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