Hepatitis E Virus of Subtype 3a in a Pig Farm, South-Eastern France

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Hepatitis E virus (HEV) has emerged during the past decade as a causative agent of autochthonous hepatitis and is a clinical concern in Western developed countries. It has been increasingly recognized that pigs are a major reservoir of HEV of genotypes 3 and 4 worldwide and pig-derived food items represent a potential source of infections by these viruses in humans. Hepatitis E virus RNA testing was performed here on faeces from rectal swabs sampled in 2012 from 50 3-month-old farm pigs from the same farm located in south-eastern France than in a previous work conducted in 2007. Pig HEV sequences corresponding to genomic fragments of ORF2 and ORF1 genes were obtained after RT-PCR amplification with in-house protocols. Hepatitis E virus genotype was determined by phylogenetic analysis. Prevalence was similar to that determined 5 years earlier (68% versus 62%). Two robust phylogenetic clusters of HEV subtypes 3a and 3f were identified, and these sequences obtained in 2012 largely differ compared with those obtained in 2007. Notably, HEV sequences obtained in 2012 from a majority (62%) of the infected pigs belonged to subtype 3a, which was not previously described in France, including not being found in any of humans, pigs or wild boars. Further studies are needed to assess the circulation of HEV-3a in pigs and humans in this country. In addition, along with previous findings, this study supports the need for increased information to the public on the risk of HEV infection through contacts with pigs or consumption of pig-derived products in France.

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