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Open Access Research article

Widespread distribution of hepatitis E virus in Spanish pig herds

Nereida Jiménez de Oya1, Ignacio de Blas2, Ana-Belén Blázquez1, Miguel A Martín-Acebes1, Nabil Halaihel2, Olivia Gironés2, Juan-Carlos Saiz1 and Estela Escribano-Romero1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biotechnology. INIA. Madrid, Spain

2 Department of Animal Pathology. Faculty of Veterinary. Saragossa University, Spain

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:412  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-412

Published: 14 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is a serious health problem in developing countries and is also increasingly reported in industrialized regions. HEV is considered a zoonotic agent and strains isolated from swine and human sources are genetically similar. Thus, HEV is of increasing importance to both public and animal health. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the distribution of HEV in a large population of pigs from herds located in different autonomous regions throughout Spain.

Results

The presence of anti-HEV IgG antibodies was analyzed in 1141 swine serum samples (corresponding to 381 pigs younger than 6 months and 760 pigs older than 6 months) collected from 85 herds. Herds were located in 6 provinces in 4 autonomous regions throughout Spain. At least one pig tested positive for anti-HEV IgG in over 80% of herds. Of individual pigs, 20.4% (233/1141) were positive for anti-HEV IgG, with the prevalence being higher in adult pigs than in those under 6 months (30.2% vs. 15.5%). A subset of serum samples taken at 2- to 5-week intervals showed that seroprevalence dropped between 3 and 11 weeks of age, and then rose significantly by the 15th week. Pigs were also examined for the presence of HEV-RNA by RT-PCR. Of pigs tested for the presence of HEV-RNA 18.8% (64/341) were positive, with at least one pig in almost half of the herds testing positive. HEV-RNA amplicons from several positive pigs were sequenced and all were of genotype 3.

Conclusions

HEV was found to be widely distributed among swine farms across Spain, with the prevalence being highest among animals older than 6 months. These results indicate that HEV infection either is or is likely to become endemic in the Spanish swine population.