Background Identifying pig farms infected with hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a key aspect to implement surveillance programmes for this emerging zoonotic agent. Detection of HEV in blood has several drawbacks, including animal handling, economic costs and animal stress. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a non-invasive screening approach for determining the HEV status of pig farms under different management systems.
Methods Forty stool samples randomly collected from the pen floor of 17 intensive pig farms and the yard of nine extensive ones were tested for HEV RNA. The invasive method used to confirm the HEV status of the farm was HEV RNA analysis of serum samples randomly collected from 40 animals on each farm.
Results Twenty-one HEV-positive farms were detected by invasive and non-invasive methods. No positive serum or stool samples were detected on five intensive farms. A high intertest agreement (K=1; P<0.00001) was observed between both methodologies, showing the stool screening approach a 100 per cent of sensitivity and specificity with respect to the invasive method. Likewise, a significant negative relationship was observed between the HEV within-farm prevalence and the number of the first HEV-positive stool sample found (Spearman’s rho=−0.64; P=0.0004). This negative relationship was higher in intensively managed farms.
Conclusion This non-invasive screening approach could be reliably applied in a large-scale surveillance programme for determining the HEV status of pig farms under different management systems.