Prevalence and phylogenetic analysis of hepatitis E virus in pigs, wild boars, roe deer, red deer and moose in Lithuania.Acta Vet Scand. 2018 Feb 23; 60(1):13.AV
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is one of the major causes of acute viral hepatitis worldwide. In Europe, food-borne zoonotic transmission of HEV genotype 3 has been associated with domestic pigs and wild boar. Controversial data are available on the circulation of the virus in animals that are used for human consumption, and to date, no gold standard has yet been defined for the diagnosis of HEV-associated hepatitis. To investigate the current HEV infection status in Lithuanian pigs and wild ungulates, the presence of viral RNA was analyzed by nested reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-nPCR) in randomly selected samples, and the viral RNA was subsequently genotyped.
In total, 32.98 and 22.55% of the domestic pig samples were HEV-positive using RT-nPCR targeting the ORF1 and ORF2 fragments, respectively. Among ungulates, 25.94% of the wild boar samples, 22.58% of the roe deer samples, 6.67% of the red deer samples and 7.69% of the moose samples were positive for HEV RNA using primers targeting the ORF1 fragment. Using primers targeting the ORF2 fragment of the HEV genome, viral RNA was only detected in 17.03% of the wild boar samples and 12.90% of the roe deer samples. Phylogenetic analysis based on a 348-nucleotide-long region of the HEV ORF2 showed that all obtained sequences detected in Lithuanian domestic pigs and wildlife belonged to genotype 3. In this study, the sequences identified from pigs, wild boars and roe deer clustered within the 3i subtype reference sequences from the GenBank database. The sequences obtained from pig farms located in two different counties of Lithuania were of the HEV 3f subtype. The wild boar sequences clustered within subtypes 3i and 3h, clearly indicating that wild boars can harbor additional subtypes of HEV. For the first time, the ORF2 nucleotide sequences obtained from roe deer proved that HEV subtype 3i can be found in a novel host.
The results of the viral prevalence and phylogenetic analyses clearly demonstrated viral infection in Lithuanian pigs and wild ungulates, thus highlighting a significant concern for zoonotic virus transmission through both the food chain and direct contact with animals. Unexpected HEV genotype 3 subtype diversity in Lithuania and neighboring countries revealed that further studies are necessary to understand the mode of HEV transmission between animals and humans in the Baltic States region.