Thursday 24 February 2022

Hepatitis E virus defies alcohol-based hand disinfectants


The hepatitis E virus (HEV) can cause serious liver inflammation and is the most common cause of acute virus-mediated hepatitis worldwide. Infection can be prevented through appropriate hygiene measures. Scientists have investigated the effectiveness of various common hand disinfectants against HEV. They were able to show that most formulations do not completely inactivate the virus.


In Germany and Europe, HEV has its natural reservoir in pigs. The infection can spread from animals to humans, which is called a zoonosis. This often happens through incompletely heated or raw meat products such as minced meat. In tropical regions of the world, infections occur via contaminated water, sometimes causing large outbreaks.


Together with the team of Professor Eike Steinmann, head of the Department of Molecular and Medical Virology at RUB, Behrendt has investigated whether common hand disinfectants can render the virus harmless. "We tested the effect of the alcohols ethanol and propanol, both individually and in the mixing ratios recommended by the WHO, and also commercial hand disinfectants," says Steinmann. "However, only one product that contained another component was effective."


Normally, HEV occurs non-enveloped and, like all non-enveloped viruses, is very resistant to chemical influences. However, virus particles circulating in the blood of patients are surrounded by a lipid envelope. "Not all disinfectants are effective against enveloped and non-enveloped viruses at the same time," says Steinmann. "We used both forms of HEV for our tests."


Although some of the disinfectants tested are certified to inactivate both enveloped and non-enveloped viruses, they were not sufficiently effective against HEV. "The alcoholic components dissolve the lipid envelope, but the resulting "naked" viruses are still infectious," says Behrendt. So HEV is literally hard to break down. The decisive advantage was a product that contains phosphoric acid as well as alcohol. This neutralised all the virus particles sufficiently.


Journal Reference:


Patrick Behrendt, Martina Friesland, Jan-Erik WiƟmann, et al. Hepatitis E virus is highly resistant to alcohol-based disinfectants. Journal of Hepatology, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.jhep.2022.01.006


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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