Thousands of British shoppers may have caught the hepatitis E virus from pork products sold by a British supermarket, an investigation by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 Britons are infected with the virus each year after eating pork products imported mainly from the Netherlands and Germany, according to the Sunday Times.
After examining the lifestyle and shopping habits of 60 people infected with the virus, PHE singled out own-brand sausages and cooked sliced ham at a particular supermarket – named only as Supermaket X – as the source of the infection.
British authorities are keen not to “infer blame on the supermarket” in question and have refused to name it. However, Dutch media have named UK retail giant Tesco in connection with the infection. Tesco has so far refused to confirm or deny the reports.
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The particular strain of hepatitis E observed by PHE has not been found in UK pigs and the 60 people involved in the study had no history of travel outside the UK.
According to PHE, non-travel cases of hepatitis E have risen from 368 in 2010 to 1,243 in 2016.
The hepatitis E virus causes inflammation of the liver and may lead to flu-like symptoms, fever, vomiting and yellowing of the skin.
While mild in most cases, hepatitis E can lead to scarring of the liver, liver failure, neurological damage and even death.
A spokesperson for the UK Food Safety Authority said the risk of infection from properly cooked meat is low and encouraged consumers to ensure their pork products are “thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout”.
Another blow for Dutch food safety
Hepatitis E has been detected in 80% of liver sausage and pate products on sale in the Netherlands, Foodlog, a website dedicated to health and food, reports. Dutch virologists believe the use of unsterilised pigs’ blood in pork products may be to blame.
This is the second blow to the Netherlands’ food export industry since the beginning of August, when a public health scandal erupted because eggs contaminated with the banned insecticide fipronil were traced back to Dutch farms.
The fipronil scandal has since reached 17 European countries and the chemical has even been detected in food imports as far away as Hong Kong.