Do you like to eat raw liver? Is liver pâté one of your favorite dishes? You may want to think twice before ingesting such a meal again, as researchers at the Singapore General Hospital have found definite similarities between the virus strains of Hepatitis E virus or (HEV) in pig liver and human liver.

Why can pig liver cause higher risk of contracting Hepatitis E?

According to a report from The Straits Times, researchers at the Singapore General Hospital, “found that HEV strain in three in four samples of infected patients’ blood has similar genetic features as the virus detected in three raw pork liver samples that were bought from local markets.”

This means that ingesting raw pork liver could mean you’re ingesting a strain of HEV that’s similar enough to human HEV that it could cause you get infected.

The same report said that people who have contracted HEV has risen steadily over the years. While the researchers could not say if the ingestion of raw pig liver is the main cause of the rise in cases, many local dishes feature this ingredient and do not cook the meat thoroughly.

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“As most people like it a little under-cooked for its texture, this may put them at risk of hepatitis E infection,” said Dr Chan, a senior consultant in the Department of Microbiology at SGH.

The study showed that the number of cases of HEV has doubled in the past few years, with 1.17 in 100,000 people infected in 2012 and 4.1 in 100,000 people infected in 2016. Most of the infected people are Chinese men over the age of 55.

People with weak immune systems are the ones who have to be wary the most, as they are the people most likely to contract HEV if they eat raw pig liver.

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What is Hepatitis E virus or HEV?

HEV is a virus that infects the liver and can cause various symptoms such as  fever, lethargy, nausea and jaundice. Some patients do not exhibit any symptoms at all.

While the disease can go away on its own after a few weeks, people who have weak immune systems and chronic liver disease can be severely harmed by an infection. Transplant patients and pregnant women are susceptible as well. In some cases, contracting the Hepatitis E virus can lead to death.

How do you get HEV?

The same report said that you can acquire the disease from eating contaminated food or substances. Ingesting water that is laced with the disease or accidentally drinking water that has trace amounts of faeces. Eating raw or half-cooked meat that is infected can also transmit the virus to you.

How do you avoid getting HEV?

Dr. Chan advised the public that the safest way to avoid acquiring HEV from pig liver is to cook meat fully so it destroys the virus. Everyone must make sure that the food they eat is cooked thoroughly.