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Pork products at a leading supermarket in the UK may have infected shoppers with a form of hepatitis that can cause liver failure and death, health officials said.
Researchers at Public Health England (PHE) investigated the shopping habits of those infected with hepatitis E and found that a recurring feature was that they had all eaten ham and sausages from one particular supermarket.
In a report published last month the government agency said the virus strain has not been detected in British pigs, and infections could be the result of eating products made outside the UK.
PHE stressed that this “does not infer blame on the supermarket” and along with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said they will not be naming the store.
The Sunday Times reports the research was carried out between 2014 and 2016, and that it is estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Britons are infected with the virus by imported pork every year.
According to the newspaper, PHE’s report states: “The implicated products are pork sausages, which require cooking prior to consumption, and ready-to-eat pre-packed ham.”
Researchers found the “own brand” sausages were significantly associated with infection.
Since 2010 PHE said there has been an “increase in the number of non-travel cases” of the hepatitis E virus – with figures showing infections have risen from from 368 in 2010 to 1243 in 2016.
Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, generally results in a mild and short-term infection unless the person has a pre-existing liver disease or is pregnant.
Symptoms of the virus can include feeling flu-like, yellowing of the skin and eyes, tiredness, fever, vomiting and loss of appetite. In rare cases it can cause liver failure and prove fatal.
In the wake of the increasing infection figures, the PHE study looked at 60 individuals with no history of travel outside the UK.
An FSA spokeswoman said they are aware the report’s findings and are reviewing all aspects of hepatitis E infection with other government departments and industry.
“The risk from acquiring hepatitis E virus (HEV) from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products is low,” she said.
“As a precaution, the FSA advises consumers that all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.”
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