Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a zoonotic pathogen with a worldwide distribution, and infects several mammalian species, including pigs and wild boars, which are recognized as its natural reservoirs. The virus causes a usually self-limiting liver disease with a mortality rate generally below 1%, although mortality rates of 15%-25% have been recorded in pregnant woman. Chronic infections can also occur. The prevalence of HEV has been extensively studied in wild boars and pigs in northern Italy, where intensive pig herds are predominantly located. In contrast, few data have been collected in south-central Italy, where small pig herds are surrounded by large regional parks populated with heterogeneous wild fauna. In this study, 291 liver samples from wild boars caught in south-central Italy were analysed with the molecular detection of viral RNA. Our results confirm the circulation of HEV in these animals, with a mean prevalence of 13.7% (40 of 291). A nucleotide sequence analysis showed that the HEV strains were highly conserved within the same geographic areas. The wild boar HEV strains belonged to the HEV-3c subtype, which is frequently described in wild boars, and to an uncommon undefined subtype (HEV-3j-like).The viral prevalence detected is concerning because it could represent a potential risk to hunters, meat workers and consumers of wild boar liver and derivative products. The hypothesized inter-species transmission of HEV to pigs and the possibility that the virus maintains its virulence in the environment and the meat chain also present potential risks to human health, and warrant further investigations in the near future.
- Hepatitis E virus
- wild boar