Identification of the first strain of swine hepatitis E virus in South America and prevalence of anti-HEV antibodies in swine in Argentina



In Argentina, a country considered non-endemic for hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection, serologic evidence of HEV infection has been observed in different human population groups. In other countries, a high degree of genetic relatedness has been observed between human and swine HEV genotype 3 sequences, suggesting zoonosis as one probable route of infection. This is the first identification of swine HEV in South America. HEV RNA was detected and sequenced in the ORF 1 and ORF 2 regions from swine fecal samples from a herd located in Pergamino, in the province of Buenos Aires. These strains all group into genotype 3 and exhibit a close relationship to two novel HEV variants previously identified in Argentina from sporadic acute cases of non-A to -C hepatitis in humans. In addition, using a modified commercial ELISA, the presence of anti-HEV antibodies was surveyed in five provinces across the country and all five showed a prevalence of HEV antibodies, ranging from 4% to 58%. The results suggest that swine could be an important reservoir for virus transmission in Argentina as has been suggested for other non-endemic areas. The Argentine human strains and swine strain described in this article seem to be closely related to a human Austrian strain, suggesting a potential European origin of HEV infection in these cases. J. Med. Virol. 78:1579–1583, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.