Study: Most Common Hand Disinfectant Formulations Do Not Inactivate Hepatitis E Virus

A product containing phosphoric acid as well as alcohol successfully neutralized all of the virus particles.

Although hepatitis E virus (HEV) can be prevented with appropriate hygiene measures, researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum have found that most common hand disinfectant formulations do not completely inactivate the virus, according to a press release.

HEV can cause serious liver inflammation and is the most common cause of acute virus-mediated hepatitis worldwide, the researchers noted. In Europe, the virus has a natural reservoir in pigs and can spread to humans through inadequately heated or raw meat products. In tropical regions of the world, infections occur via contaminated water, which can sometimes cause large outbreaks, according to the study.

“Some of these infections could possibly be prevented with the right hygiene measures,” said researcher Patrick Behrendt, head of the junior research group, in the press release.

That hygiene includes, above all, correct hand disinfection in everyday clinical practice when working with patients or animals with HEV infection. To investigate the most effective techniques for disinfection, Behrendt and his colleagues 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 [World Health Organization], and also commercial hand disinfectants,” said researcher Eike Steinmann, head of the department of molecular and medical virology at Ruhr-University Bochum, in the press release. “However, only one product that contained another component was effective.”

Typically, HEV occurs non-enveloped and is therefore very resistant to chemical influences; however, virus particles circulating in the blood of patients are surrounded by a lipid envelope, according to the study.

“Not all disinfectants are effective against enveloped and non-enveloped viruses at the same time,” Steinmann said in the press release. “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. Although the alcoholic components dissolve the lipid envelope, the researchers found that the resulting non-enveloped viruses are still infectious. However, a product containing phosphoric acid as well as alcohol successfully neutralized all of the virus particles.

“We were able to show that HEV can resist most common hand disinfectants,” Behrendt said in the press release. “We hope that these findings will be taken into consideration in the future when hygiene measures are recommended for handling contaminated meat products and in HEV outbreak situations.”


Hard to break down. News release. Ruhr University Bochum; February 1, 2022. Accessed February 4, 2022.

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