Molecular investigation of hepatitis E virus infection in domestic and miniature pigs used for medical experiments.Xenotransplantation. 2004 Nov; 11(6):503-10.X
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is highly prevalent among domestic pigs in Japan. It has been reported that pig handlers such as farmers and veterinarians are at increased risk of contracting HEV infection. Pigs are regarded as the most acceptable candidate animals for xenotransplantation and, recently, they are being used as experimental animals.
We investigated the prevalence of IgG class antibodies to swine HEV (anti-HEV) and HEV RNA among 152 2-month-old domestic pigs and 38 miniature pigs of 4 to 10 months of age that had been brought to our center for medical experiments from five swine farms (A-E) in Japan. Serum samples were tested for anti-HEV by in-house enzyme immunoassay, and for HEV RNA by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction using primers targeting the open reading frame 2 (ORF2) region.
One percent (one of 84), 6% (one of 16), and 38% (20 of 52) of the domestic pigs from farms A, B and C, respectively, had detectable HEV RNA, and the 22 HEV isolates recovered from the viremic pigs were 89.8 to 100% identical to each other in the 412-nucleotide sequence of ORF2 and segregated into three clusters within genotype 3. Although one pig from farm A had detectable HEV RNA reproducibly, the HEV isolate recovered from this pig was up to 100% similar to those recovered from pigs from farm C, and the sera from all 84 pigs from farm A were negative for anti-HEV. These results suggested that farm A is free from HEV infection. As the viremic pig from farm A had been raised for 1 month in a barn at our center before serum sampling, it is most likely that the pig acquired HEV infection in the barn at our center where HEV-viremic pigs from farm C had been reared for several days approximately 3 months earlier. The 38 miniature pigs from farms D and E were negative for both anti-HEV and HEV RNA. In an attempt to further investigate the prevalence of HEV infection, pigs that were being raised in four swine farms (farms A, C, D, and E) were tested for anti-HEV. Although 96 (86%) of the 112 pigs from farm C were positive for anti-HEV, none of the 48 pigs in farm A and 138 miniature pigs in farms D and E was positive for anti-HEV.
These results suggest that three of the five swine farms tested were free from HEV, and that periodic testing for anti-HEV and HEV RNA of pigs used as experimental animals and pigs raised in swine farms from which pigs are purchased, is useful for providing HEV-free pigs to researchers who are engaged in studies using pigs.