E. Brocchi, L. Chiavacci, N. Vitale, G. Pezzoni, F. Balsamelli, V. Ghisetti, P. Modesto, B. Sona, A. Rosamilia, S. Peletto, L. Masoero, P. L. Acutis, C. Caruso
An increase in autochthonous hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections has been recorded in Italy suspected to be zoonotically transmitted from pigs; this study was carried out to determinate the seroprevalence and risk factors associated with hepatitis HEV exposition, both in swine and humans working in pig farms, located within a high-density pig farming area in Piedmont region, north-western Italy. The presence of viral RNA in human and swine samples was also evaluated, and phylogenetic analysis was performed on HEV-positive samples. Forty-two swine farms were sampled; 142 workers were enrolled in the study and classified into two groups: (i) 69 workers with occupational contact with swine (including veterinarians and farmers) recruited in the 42 sampled farms; (ii) 73 without occupational contact with swine. Forty-one of 42 (97%) swine farms resulted positive to enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test for HEV antibodies (Abs). Overall seroprevalence in swine was 50% (441/879), with seropositivity rate higher in sows (333/469, 71%). HEV RNA in stool samples was detected in animals from 13 of 42 tested farms (31%), and a higher positivity resulted in weaners (40/246, 16.3%). Phylogenetic analysis classified all HEV isolates within genotype 3 (subtypes 3f, 3e, 3c). All humans were negative for HEV viral genome in blood. Five of 142 sera were positive for IgG anti-HEV with an overall prevalence of 3.52% with no statistically significant differences in prevalence rates between workers at zoonotic risk and the control group (5.7% versus 1.3%). In contrast, a significant difference (OR 10.1) was observed within the subgroup including subjects exposed for short periods (veterinarians) compared with those who worked for long periods (farmers) suggesting a correlation between the time of exposure and the likelihood of HEV infection. Reporting HEV infection is not mandatory in Italy, but a constant epidemiological surveillance should be ensured to clarify the epidemiology of this disease.