New strain of hepatitis E, dubbed Brexit virus, in European pork infects over 60,000 in Britain yearly

More than 60,000 people in Britain have been infected by a new strain of hepatitis E (HEV), linked to pig farms in various European countries.
More than 60,000 people in Britain have been infected by a new strain of hepatitis E (HEV), linked to pig farms in various European countries. ST PHOTO: TERRENCE LIM

A new strain of hepatitis E (HEV), linked to pig farms in various European countries and dubbed the "Brexit virus", is infecting more than 60,000 people in Britain yearly, Britain's The Sunday Times said in a report on Sunday (May 21).

The Times quoted Exeter University gastroenterologist Harry Dalton, who told a conference on neurological infectious diseases that HEV had become "a major threat".

He told The Times: "I call it the Brexit virus. It attacks the liver and nerves, with a peak in May. It is particularly dangerous for people with suppressed immune systems such as those who have had organ transplants and possibly cancer. The virus seems to come from Europe."

The virus is reportedly found in meat from farms in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. It can be contracted by eating infected pork products.

The symptoms of HEV are flu-like and include fever, nausea and tiredness, but can become more serious in rare cases, reported The Guardian. Those who are pregnant, elderly or have weakened immunity are particularly at risk.

The Food Standards Agency said the virus had spread to most British pig herds with 93 per cent of animals infected and 6 per cent producing enough of the virus to infect humans, Farminguk.com reported on Monday (May 22).

Reports say the new strain is believed to have infected 10 per cent of sausages in Britain.

However, Britain's National Pig Association (NPA) said the findings were from a limited sample size of 63 sausages from 11 batches.

Even so, NPA said in a statement that it agrees with the conclusion of researchers that "if people in this country have contracted hepatitis E virus from eating pork, it is likely to have come from imported pork, rather than British pork".