Finnish Authorities Investigate Hepatitis E Outbreak Linked to Meat Recall

by Ella

Officials in Finland are actively probing a suspected connection between a hepatitis E-positive meat product and a recent surge in infections across the country.

Reports indicate that between January and February of this year, 81 cases of hepatitis E have been reported from various regions in Finland, with half of the affected individuals requiring hospitalization. This represents a significant increase compared to the typical annual range of 20 to 60 cases, with only 30 cases reported in 2023 and a single case in January of the same year, according to data from the Infectious Disease Register.


Laboratory tests conducted by the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) revealed the presence of the hepatitis E virus in a product manufactured domestically. Consequently, the implicated items have been promptly recalled from the market and are no longer available for purchase.


Kotivara, the manufacturer in question, has voluntarily withdrawn six products that were sold since early November 2023 from both retail stores and wholesalers. While most of these products have exceeded their shelf life, two remain on shelves until March 19, 2024.


In interviews conducted by the National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) with 30 patients, 27 individuals reported consuming various brands of mettwurst or salami before falling ill. However, given the widespread consumption of meat products, further investigation is necessary to ascertain the significance of this correlation. The Finnish Food Authority has thus initiated examinations of food samples corresponding to the brands mentioned in THL’s reports.


Among the affected patients, with a median age of 64, 70 percent are men, as per data gathered from 44 patients.

THL is currently in the process of genotyping the hepatitis E viruses identified in patient samples to compare them with the strain detected in the recalled product.

Collaborative efforts between Ruokavirasto, THL, and local food control authorities are underway to pinpoint the source of the hepatitis E infections, including assessing the potential impact of the recalled products on patient cases and identifying any additional contaminated items.

Of the 13 patients whose samples have been analyzed by THL, the most prevalent genotype identified was HEV-3f, which formed three distinct clusters. Notably, HEV-3f had not been detected in Finland since 2019, with HEV-3e and HEV-3c being the predominant genotypes between 2019 and 2022.

Broader Concerns in the EU

In February, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) announced its vigilance in response to reports of increased hepatitis E infections in several countries.

Belgium and the Czech Republic reported elevated case numbers in January, with Germany recording over 350 cases, the Czech Republic 63, and Belgium 36.

As of January 2024, 520 hepatitis E virus infections were documented across 10 countries, though no definitive links between the cases have been established. In Belgium, genotype 3c was the most frequently identified strain among patients for whom information was available, with ongoing genotyping efforts underway in Spain.

Hepatitis E infection, caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV), is a liver disease. Precautionary measures to prevent infection include ensuring all meat, particularly pork, is thoroughly cooked before consumption and practicing proper hand hygiene after handling raw meat or meat products.

The incubation period for HEV typically ranges from two to nine weeks, with symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice manifesting within one to four weeks. However, some individuals, particularly young children, may exhibit no symptoms at all.



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