One in ten sausages may carry the hepatitis virus: Cases of rare deadly strain have rocketed 40% in a year
- Once considered very rare, cases have risen by nearly 40 per cent in a year
- 1 in 50 of those infected will die, rising to one in five pregnant women
- Sausages most dangerous pork product – they contain liver meat
By Sophie Borland
PUBLISHED: 16:52 GMT, 15 September 2013 | UPDATED: 21:35 GMT, 15 September 2013
As many as one in ten sausages could be infected with a potentially deadly virus that causes liver damage, scientists warn.
They are concerned that rising numbers of Britons are being struck down with hepatitis E after eating contaminated pork.
The infection was once considered very rare but cases have risen by nearly 40 per cent in a year and there were 657 in 2012.
The virus usually causes only relatively mild symptoms such as sickness, a temperature and muscle pain, which clear up by themselves within a month.
But it can be fatal for the elderly, cancer victims, pregnant women and others with existing liver problems.
Around one in 50 of those infected will die, rising to one in five pregnant women.
Experts say sausages have to be cooked at 70C (158F) for at least 20 minutes to kill the virus but they say that most Britons do not leave them in the oven for this long.
Tests have showed that it can survive at 60C (140F) after an hour.
A report published last week by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs says 10 per cent of sausages sampled were found to contain the virus.
It states that there is ‘increasing evidence’ that hepatitis E is a food-borne infection.
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It is common in the developing world, where it is usually transmitted through contaminated water. It ‘is increasingly being recognised’ as a major disease.
All forms of hepatitis cause swelling of the liver, which in severe cases can cause damage to the organ, liver cancer and death.
Men over 50 are more susceptible to the virus as they tend to drink more and have weaker livers, and it is particularly harmful for pregnant women who catch it in the final three months of their pregnancy (posed by models)
One in five expectant mothers who catches the virus will die. There is also a risk that the virus will be passed to the baby.
Dr Harry Dalton, a consultant at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro and one of Britain’s leading experts on hepatitis E, said: ‘This is emerging as a serious problem.
‘About 85 per cent of British pigs carry the virus, which is quite hardy.
Sausages have to be cooked at 70C for 20 minutes to kill it and that is longer than most sausages ever get cooked.’
Sausages are regarded as particularly dangerous as they often contain liver meat and traces of pig’s blood as well as a casing from the animal’s intestine.
A KILLER AROUND THE WORLD
There are five types of hepatitis, which is a condition defined by the inflammation of the liver. The most common are A, B and C.
Hepatitis E causes around 20 million infections a year worldwide, which result in around 57,000 deaths.
It was first found in 1955 in New Delhi, India, following contamination of water. It is endemic in much of the Far East and Africa, where sanitation is poor.
Hepatitis E is most common in adults aged 15 to 40 and the symptoms in children are normally so mild that they go undiagnosed.
Scientists have warned about the acute risk of hepatitis E from the French delicacy figatellu – a smoked pigs liver sausage – which is often eaten raw.
The world’s first vaccine was approved by the Chinese authorities in 2011, but is not available worldwide.