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UK supermarket ‘may have infected thousands with hepatitis E from sausages and ham’

Hepatitis E can cause liver cirrhosis in vulnerable people  

Kashmira Gander
Sunday 20 August 2017 14:54 BST
Sausages in Holland and Germany have been found to contain hepatitis E
Sausages in Holland and Germany have been found to contain hepatitis E (Getty)

Pork products sold by a leading British supermarket may have infected thousands of people with a form of hepatitis that can cause liver cirrhosis, according to health officials.

Public Health England (PHE) researchers attempting to pinpoint a link between 60 people with hepatitis E (HEV) found that they had all eaten own-brand sausages and ready-to-eat sliced ham from an unnamed retailer known as Supermarket X, The Times reported. The research was carried out between 2014 and 2016.

The study found that between 150,000 and 200,000 people in the UK are infected with HEV each year.

“Only Supermarket X, especially own brand, was significantly associated with HEV G3-2,” the report said, according to The Times. The report follows a 2011 PHE study, which also found that Supermarket X’s pork products contained the virus.

In response to the findings, NHS Blood and Transplant has tested blood donations for HEV and plans to screen donated organs and tissue for the virus found in pigs.

Pigs in the UK do not have HEV, but the virus has been detected in pork products from Holland, Germany and other mainland European countries.

Sources told The Times that they believe Supermarket X was Tesco. However, a spokesperson for the supermarket told The Independent that it works closely with the FSA and PHE to ensure customers can be confident in the safety and quality of the food they buy.

“This particular research was carried out six years ago on a small number of people, and although it provided no direct link between specific products and hepatitis E, we always take care to review research findings such as this. Food quality is really important to us and we have in place an expert team to ensure the highest possible standards at every stage of our supply chain, as well as providing clear information to customers on how to handle and cook pork in the home to minimise the risk of hepatitis E,” the spokesperson added.

HEV is spread when faeces infected with the virus finds its way into the mouth, usually through food and water, according to the British Liver Trust website. Transmitting the virus from person to person is rare, but it is possible to be infectious for up to two weeks after symptoms show.

The majority of people infected with HEV experience mild flu-like symptoms, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and aching joints and muscles, which last for a month. However, those with suppressed immune systems may struggle to fight the virus and can experience a chronic infection, liver cirrhosis and neurological damage.

The report comes after products including salads and sandwiches were recalled from Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons after eggs from Dutch and Belgian farms were found to contain the insecticide Fipronil.

However, the Food Standards Agency stressed that Fiprinol is only harmful in large quantities.

FSA chairwoman Heather Hancock said at the time: “The number of eggs involved is small in proportion to the number of eggs we eat, and it is very unlikely that there is a risk to public health.

“Based on the available evidence there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs. However, Fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there.”

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