Main research question
What is the contamination level and spread of hepatitis E virus (HEV) in Belgian pig farms? Have specific types of farming a higher risk for HEV than others? HEV is a zoonotic virus that can be transmitted to humans via raw or undercooked pork products. A majority (75%) of the Belgian pigs have antibodies against HEV. However, little is known about dynamics of HEV infection on Belgian pig farms. This knowledge is a prerequisite for proposing measures to mitigate the risk of pig infection and HEV contamination of pork for human consumption.
First, a large-scale cross-sectional serological survey of HEV herd-infection status is paired with an HEV-adapted risk-based scoring tool. A smaller number of farms, representing the main farm types encountered in Belgium, are then intensively and systematically subjected to screening of slaughter pigs for HEV infection in the course of a comparative longitudinal study. A third part includes statistical modelling of HEV infection dynamics in different types of pig farms. In a last part we determine the risk factors for HEV infection in pig farms and of slaughter pigs.
The results of this project will lead to the proposal of mitigating measures to be undertaken during the pig production cycle in the context of a strategic plan to reduce HEV infection on farms and contamination of pigs at the time of slaughter.