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Discovery of Novel Strains of Animal Hepatitis E Viruses in the United States: Antigenic and Genetic Characterization, Cross-Species Infection, and Public Health Implications
Cossaboom, Caitlin Marie
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Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is an important human pathogen, with pigs and likely other animal species serving as natural reservoirs. There are currently four recognized HEV genotypes that infect humans within the genus Hepevirus of the family Hepeviridae. Genotypes 1 and 2 are human viruses that are associated with waterborne and fecal-oral transmission in developing countries, while genotypes 3 and 4 have been identified in humans and other animal species and are zoonotic and endemic in both industrialized and developing countries. In my dissertation research, we identified the first strain of HEV from rabbits in the United States. We subsequently determined the complete genome sequence of the virus. Phylogenetic analyses of the full-length sequence indicated that U.S. rabbit HEV is a distant member of the zoonotic genotype 3, thus raising a potential concern for zoonotic infection. In order to investigate the cross-species potential of rabbit HEV, we then determined its antigenic cross-reactivity with other animal strains of HEV. Additionally, we demonstrated that the novel rabbit HEV could cross species barriers and infect pigs under experimental conditions. Finally, we attempted to determine the risk factors and sources of foodborne HEV infection in the United States. We detected HEV for the first time from non-liver pork commercial products in the United States and demonstrated consumption of undercooked meat a risk factor for HEV infection. HEV sequences of genotype 3 origin were detected from pork products purchased from grocery stores in Southwest Virginia. Approximately 6.3% (21/335) of university students tested seropositive for HEV antibodies and, importantly, those with a history of consuming undercooked meats were 13 times more likely to be seropositive. These results further underscore the importance of cooking pork thoroughly and using proper hygiene when preparing meals.
- Doctoral Dissertations