Hepatitis B Virus in Chicken

Hepatitis B Virus is already one of the most important viruses that are infectious to man. It is estimated that more than 240 million people have chronic (long-term) Hepatitis B Virus infections and more than 780,000 people die every year due to the acute or chronic consequences of Hepatitis B[1]. It certainly has the potential to mutate and evolve into new and potentially deadly variants..

Scientists were worried that Hepatitis B Virus could exist in animals that are destined to end up as food on our dinner plates. If, for instance, Hepatitis B Virus could be detected in chicken, it would potentially give the virus a chance to infect people or a novel virus could emerge that is a mix of both human and chicken variants.
A study was done to see if Hepatitis B Virus could be detected in liver and serum samples of chickens. The result were alarming: a large number of chicken were or had once been infected with Hepatitis B Virus[2].

DNA sequencing revealed that two Hepatitis B Viruses, found in chicken livers, shared 92.2% of a known human Hepatitis B Virus strain and 97.9% nucleotide sequence of another human Hepatitis B Virus strain.

The results of the research showed the existence of Hepatitis B Virus in chickens and it was a just a little bit different from human variants. Not quite the same means that the existing vaccine for humans is useless. This would present a significant risk to people who work with live chickens or chicken products.

[1] WHO: Hepatitis B Factsheet. See here.
[2] Tian et al: Detection of Hepatitis B virus in serum and liver of chickens in Virology Journal – 2012

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