Hunger for raw pork organs suspected in surge of Singaporeans with Hep E

Some Singaporeans’ love for raw pig guts may be responsible for a surge in hepatitis E infections in recent years, according to a recent study.

The incidence rate more than doubled from 1.7 to 4.1 cases per 100,000 people in a four-year period ending in 2016, with Chinese men 55 and up being most vulnerable, the Singapore General Hospital revealed yesterday, suggesting a link to an appetite for pork offal such as pig’s organ soup might be to blame. 

“Although we could not ascertain if pig liver is the main contributor of HEV cases in Singapore, we observed that pig liver can be found in many local dishes,” said Chan Kwai Peng, the study’s author and a senior consultant in the hospital’s department of microbiology.

Worldwide, the virus is associated with the consumption of pork meat or offal, game meat, and shellfish.

“As most people like it a little undercooked for its texture, this may put them at risk of hepatitis E infection. The safest way of consuming food, including pork, is to cook it thoroughly,” Chan added.

The hospital’s study found that 75% of infected patients’ blood samples found the strain of the bug belongs to the HEV genotype 3a, which is the same strain detected in three raw pork liver samples.

The study was published in the July issue of the Zoonoses Public Health medical journal.

Other than consuming raw or undercooked products from infected animals, people could also get infected by ingesting water contaminated with feces, the hospital said. 

Hepatitis E infects the liver and can be dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, transplant patients or people with chronic liver disease. It can, however, disappear after a few weeks in those with stronger immune systems. 

Patients may show symptoms including fever, lethargy, nausea, and jaundice. 

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