Research project Dynamics of Hepatitis E infections in Begian pig farms

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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.

Research approach

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.

Relevance/Valorization

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.