In 2013, genotype 4 hepatitis E virus (HEV) was identified for the first time in Italy in a herd of fattening pigs in the province of Vicenza (north-east of Italy).

The discovery was made by a research team of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZSVe) during the project  “Monitoring and assessing the prevalence of HEV in animal populations and in human population at risk”, funded by the Italian Ministry of Health.

The study was carried out in collaboration with INAIL and the University of Padua – Department of Molecular Medicine. The researchers evaluated also the serum-prevalence against HEV in workers exposed to the risk (farmers). The results will be published in the next future.

Details of the discovery and research have been published in the scientific journal Epidemiology & Infection.

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Hepatitis E: what is it?

Hepatitis E is an acute infectious disease caused by a virus and it is considered an emerging zoonosis. The virus HEV is an important public health problem in developing countries in which it is transmitted by fecal-oral route through ingestion of contaminated food or water.

In industrialized countries, pigs and wild animals (such as wild boars and deers) were tested  positive virologically and serologically for HEV.  Genotypes 3 and 4 can infect both animals and humans and swines appear to be the main reservoir. The presence of genotype 3 in the Italian pig population has been widely reported with average prevalences of 30% .

Genotype 4 was considered purely Asian until 2011, the year of its first discovery in Europe (Netherlands and Belgium). It was later identified in humans in France and Italy (2014).

Further information

Lebana Bonfanti