Something wicked this way comes. As reported by the Guardian, researchers have found that pork products sold at one of the UK’s leading supermarkets may have unknowingly contained hepatitis E (HEV), a strain of the virus that can, very rarely, cause fatal liver damage. Potentially thousands of people may be at risk.
This finding came about not due to random testing, but because Public Health England (PHE), a government agency that focuses on the medical well-being of the population, wanted to know more about how people with HEV contract it.
For some time, it was thought that HEV wasn’t that prevalent in the UK, and was instead restricted to emerging in developing or low-income nations. Sudden spikes in people found to have HEV in their blood raised the alarm, and groups like PHE have been investigating ever since.
The researchers found that many of those with HEV had shopped at one store – known only anonymously as “supermarket X” – and had regularly purchased ham and sausages from it. As the virus doesn’t appear to be found in British pigs, as per a previous report, it’s likely the infections are occurring thanks to pork products being shipped in from outside of the UK.
Right now, the virus hasn’t been directly detected in the meat products from supermarket X. This is just a correlation, but it’s extremely unlikely that in this case another, currently undiscovered, HEV transmission vector is to blame.
According to The Times, as many as 200,000 Britons are infected with the virus through imported pork every single year. For most, the infection only brings with it mild, influenza-like symptoms, as well as darker urine, paler poop, and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Worryingly, it can prove to be deadly to those with pre-existing liver conditions; those who are pregnant are also at a higher risk of suffering from complications.
Confusingly, it appears that both pre-cooked products – like ham – and pork products required to be cooked at home – like sausages – are associated with the prevalence of HEV. There’s a lot to unravel here, but for now, that’s all the details that have been made public as the review continues.