The hepatitis E virus (HEV) has been detected in both humans and animals, particularly pigs, worldwide. Several evidences, including human infection following consumption of raw contaminated meat, suggest a zoonotic transmission of HEV. In Italy, large circulation of genotype 3 HEV has been reported in swine, and recent studies have confirmed the involvement of this genotype in autochthonous human cases.
In this study 111 sera collected from healthy pigs in two Italian regions were tested for anti-HEV IgG antibodies. For specific HEV antibody detection in swine, we developed ELISA and Western blotting methods, using a truncated capsid (ORF2) protein lacking the first 111 amino acids of a swine HEV genotype 3 strain. The ORF2-based ELISA revealed anti-HEV antibodies in 104 out of 111 pigs compared with 102 detected with a commercial ELISA kit. A lower number of sera reacted with the recombinant ORF2 protein in a Western blotting format (81/111). Using a Latent class analysis (LCA), the estimated sensitivities for ELISA-ORF2 and ELISA-kit tests were 0.961 and 0.936, respectively, whereas specificities were 0.599 and 0.475. The estimated sensitivity of Western blotting was 0.775, and the specificity was 0.944.
The overall results confirm the high prevalence of HEV seropositive healthy pigs in Italy. Through comparisons with a commercial ELISA test, the swine genotype 3 HEV antigen produced in this study was proven suitable to detect anti-HEV antibodies in pig sera by both ELISA and Western Blotting.