Hepatitis E Virus

hepatitis e-a-food-safety

Hepatitis E is common in some areas of the world with poor sanitation. There is no existing vaccine against hepatitis E virus.

Hepatitis E Virus

Hepatitis E was admitted as a distinct disease in 1980. This virus is transmitted via food and water. Sewage containing contaminated human feces is a common way to pass the virus to humans in countries with unsanitary conditions. The transmission also occurs through the consumption of undercooked wild boar meat and swine, especially in Europe.
Most people who get it are mildly sick for a couple of weeks, and the illness goes away by itself, but pregnant women tend to get much sicker from hepatitis E and are much more likely to die from it.

Transmission & Reservoirs

Contaminated food may pass this virus to people, the main way it gets into people is from the hands into the mouth. For example, when infected people have a bowel movement and don’t wash their hands well afterwards, or when people clean an infected person who has had a bowel movement and don’t wash their hands well, they can spread the virus to anything they touch, and other people can pick it up when they touch that same surface later. Water or sewage contaminated with feces, from humans or swine, is a common way that the virus is passed to people. There is no vaccine for hepatitis E.



The symptoms may include a tiredness; low appetite; pain in the stomach and the joints; enlarged liver; yellow skin; yellow eyes; and fever. In pregnant women, the disease can cause very serious liver damage and can destroy the liver.

Susceptible Populations

Anyone can get sick from hepatitis E virus and have mild to severe conditions. The disease is more often seen in a young and middle-aged population. Immunocompromised are at higher risk of chronic Hepatitis E disease.  If the virus is contracted by pregnant women, they experience severe symptoms, and a high mortality rate is registered. 

Prevention/ Food Handling/ Hand Washing

Separate Raw and Cooked: Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw (uncooked) produce and raw (uncooked) meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods while shopping, and in the refrigerator.

Cook Thoroughly and Keep Food at Safe Temperature: Only a food thermometer can make sure meat, poultry, fish, and casseroles are cooked to a safe internal temperature. For example, internal temperatures should be 145°F or 63°C for whole meats (allow the meat to rest after cooking for 3 minutes at least) and fish, 160°F or 71°C for ground meats, and 165°F or 74°C for all poultry. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.

Chill: Use appliance thermometers to be sure your refrigerator is at or below 40ºF or  4°C and your freezer is 0ºF (-17.78°C) or below. Between 40ºF or 4°C and 140ºF or 60°, C is the Danger Zone, when bacteria can multiply rapidly. Generally, the more bacteria, the more likely someone will get sick. Most refrigerators have just a colder/ warmer adjustment, so the only way to know is to put a thermometer inside.

Hand Washing

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
  • Use Hand Sanitizer When You Can’t Use Soap and Water. Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. Keep in mind, that sanitizers do not kill all types of germs. If your hands are visibly dirty, soap them then use a sanitizer. They also might not remove chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals from your hands.

The presented  information is an extract from the World Health Organization (2008). Foodborne Disease Outbreaks: Guidelines for Investigation and Control. Geneva, Switzerland, 2008