Hepatitis E has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with eating undercooked pork

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: The Brexit Virus Has Infected Thousands of Bacon-Loving Brits
Credit: Photo by Tara Moore via Getty Images

Over the last year, thousands of Brits have gotten sick with what's being called the Brexit virus. This ominous-sounding illness caused by eating bacon is a strain of hepatitis E, or HEV, and incidences of it on the rise. According to a new report from Public Health England, the number of Brits infected with the Brexit virus has basically tripled over the last six years: from 368 cases in 2010 to 1,244 in 2016. And the number for 2016 is likely higher. By some estimates, as many as 60,000 Brits are affected by HEV every year. If left untreated, the virus can be deadly, especially for those with weakened immune systems like pregnant women or the elderly.

The symptoms of Brexit virus are flu-like, including fever, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. HEV can cause jaundice, or the yellowing of the skin and eyes, because the virus affects the liver first. The virus can also affect your nervous system; one patient told UK's The Sunday Times that Brexit virus caused partial paralysis. "The virus had attacked the nerves in my armpits and diaphragm," Roy Van Den Heuvel told the paper. "I couldn’t breathe properly. Doctors traced the strain to salami, probably from Holland. It is cured, not cooked, and the virus survives in the fatty bits."

Eating uncooked, infected pork products like salami, bacon, or breakfast sausages is the main cause of the Brexit virus. And most of these infected pork products are imported to the UK from countries in mainland Europe, like Holland, France, Germany, and Denmark, hence the name Brexit virus.

But as the Guardian points out, "Look, this really has nothing to do with Brexit." It's not like pigs on farms in Holland decided to contract HEV as payback for the UK's decision to leave the EU. The name seems to have originated with Dr. Harry Dalton, a gastroenterologist at Exeter University, who announced at a conference on neurological infectious diseases, "I call it the Brexit virus," as reported by The Sunday Times.

Really, the lesson here is to cook your bacon thoroughly, and not to blame foreign pork (or people, for that matter). That'll kill all the bacteria and viruses that might be living on it, thereby preventing any food-borne illness—including one as politically minded as the Brexit virus.