By Spy Uganda
Along with being the most commonly consumed meat in the world, pork may also be one of the most dangerous, carrying some important and under-discussed risks that any consumer should be aware of among them being Hepatitis E.
Thanks to the revival of nose-to-tail eating, offal has redeemed itself among health enthusiasts, especially liver, which is prized for its vitamin A content and massive mineral lineup.
But when it comes to pork, liver might be risky business.
In developed nations, pork liver is the top food-based transmitter of hepatitis E, a virus that infects 20 million people each year and can lead to acute illness (fever, fatigue, jaundice, vomiting, joint pain and stomach pain), enlarged liver and sometimes liver failure and death.
Most hepatitis E cases are stealthily symptom-free, but pregnant women can experience violent reactions to the virus, including fulminant hepatitis (rapid-onset liver failure) and a high risk of both maternal and fetal mortality. In fact, mothers who get infected during their third trimester face a death rate of up to 25%.
People with compromised immune systems, including organ transplant recipients on immunosuppressive therapy and people with HIV, are more likely to suffer from these severe hepatitis E complications.
It might be tempting to blame the hepatitis E epidemic on commercial farming practices, but in the case of the pig, wilder doesn’t mean safer. Hunted boars, too, are frequent hepatitis E carriers, capable of passing on the virus to game-eating humans.
Apart from total pork abstinence, the best way to slash hepatitis E risk is in the kitchen. This stubborn virus can survive the temperatures of rare-cooked meat, making high heat the best weapon against infection. For virus deactivation, cooking pork products for at least 20 minutes to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F) seems to do the trick.
However, fat can protect hepatitis viruses from heat destruction, so fattier cuts of pork might need extra time or toastier temperatures.