5% of blood donors exposed to hepatitis E, says IBTS

One in 20 blood donors have been exposed to hepatitis E, an Irish Blood Transfusion Service study has found.

People can contract hepatitis E from eating infected pork and ham that is not thoroughly cooked.

The rate of infection varies across Europe.

In the past year, the IBTS looked for antibodies to the disease in donor samples.

While the prevalence of the disease in Ireland, at 5.3%, is the lowest recorded in Europe, the IBTS is now working “very aggressively” towards introducing a test to screen donations for the disease.

The prevalence of hepatitis E is between 10% and 16% in Britain, 27% in the Netherlands and, in parts of France, up to half of the population has been exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis E is very rare in Ireland and usually only causes relatively mild symptoms such as sickness, a temperature, and muscle pain.

However, it can be fatal for the elderly, cancer victims, pregnant women, and others with existing liver problems.

A study published in The Lancet on World Hepatitis Day suggests that one in every 3,000 blood donors in England could be infected with hepatitis E.

According to experts, around 1,200 blood components containing the virus are likely to be transfused every year in England.

However, while the figure appears to be high, researchers said the overall burden caused by the infection among people needing blood transfusions is “slight”.

It concludes that there appears to be “no pressing need” for blood donors to be screened.

IBTS medical and scientific director William Murphy said the blood bank did not know how many donors were infected with hepatitis E.

Dr Murphy said the IBTS would complete a validation study on a test for hepatitis E within the next six months. He hoped that the blood bank would be able to introduce the test as soon as possible.

“It is a genetic test; the same type of test we use to detect HIV and hepatitis B and C and so far it looks absolutely fine,” he said.

Meanwhile, the HSE is urging people who may have put themselves at risk of hepatitis C as a result of their current activities or past lifestyle to get tested.

Up to 50,000 people in Ireland are estimated to be infected with the virus, but many have not being diagnosed and only seek medical help in the very late stages when cirrhosis of the liver has occurred.


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