Research from Public Health England has warned that one UK supermarket may have exposed thousands of people to the hepatitis E virus, thanks to infected pork from Europe. According to the research between 150,000 and 200,000 people end up infected every year.
Apparently the food affected includes own-brand pork sausages and ready-to-eat pre-packaged ham. Researchers didn't name the supermarket in question, instead referring to it as Supermarket X throughout the findings. This was probably done to prevent panic, but really it would be nice for people to know whether or not their shopping may have been contaminated.
Symptoms of hepatitis E include fever, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice, and flu-like symptoms.
Here's the good news though. The research took place between 2014 and 2016, so you haven't suffered any symptoms yet you're probably ok. It's also estimated that the infected food doesn't affect many people, with only as estimated two per cent of people falling ill. Those with compromised immune systems are more likely to suffer ill effects.
The research itself is also based on a sample of 60 people who already had hepatitis E, finding that they had all eaten the food from the supermarket in question. That's a very small sample of people to work with, and the fact they happened to have eaten the same food from the same supermarket doesn't feel like a very unlikely scenario. Frankly that doesn't sound too conclusive to me, but what do I know.
"This particular research was carried out six years ago on a small number of people, and although it provided no direct link between specific products and hepatitis E, we always take care to review research findings such as this. Food quality is really important to us and we have in place an expert team to ensure the highest possible standards at every stage of our supply chain, as well as providing clear information to customers on how to handle and cook pork in the home to minimise the risk of hepatitis E."
It also told the paper that works closely with the FSA and PHE to make sure customers can be confident the food they buy is safe and of high quality. Probably more-so after the horse meat scandal.
In response to these findings NHS Blood and Transplant has started testing blood donations for hepatitis E, and will begin screening organs and tissue for the virus.
You probably don't need to worry, so don't panic if you're fond of the odd sausage or two. If you were at risk you probably would've noticed by now, even if you take the research at face value. The British Liver Trust claims that transmitting from person to person is rare, though people can remain infectious two weeks after symptoms start to show. That said if you are concerned you can always go to the Doctor to double check. Just don't cause any stampedes. [The Times via The Independent]