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Hepatitis E virus in food


Last updated: 22 December 2020

What is it?

  • Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a virus that can be found in the gut of some animals and in people
  • HEV can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) or body fluids of infected people or animals, for example from poor handwashing
  • Foods at higher risk of contamination include pork, pig liver and raw or undercooked shellfish

What's the risk?

  • HEV can cause a hepatitis E infection of the gut and liver
  • Anyone can get hepatitis E but vulnerable people, including pregnant women, the elderly, people with weak immune systems and people with liver disease are more likely to get seriously ill
  • Pregnant women can also pass the virus to their unborn baby
  • People traveling to countries where sanitation is poor may pick up HEV

Reduce your risk

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially pork products (e.g. pâté and sausages)
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish
  • Avoid sharing food, cutlery and drinks with other people
  • When traveling to places with poor sanitation, drink bottled water and avoid food that might have been prepared using contaminated water.

Symptoms of hepatitis E

  • Symptoms usually start within 40 days of eating contaminated food, but can take up to 64 days
  • Common symptoms range from fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and nausea to abdominal pain and dark-coloured urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Generally, symptoms last for around 2–6 weeks
  • Hepatitis E generally does not usually cause long-term illness.


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