British sausage lovers may have been infected with a pig virus by a leading supermarket, according to Public Health England (PHE).

Researchers at PHE investigated the shopping habits of people infected with hepatitis E and found eating pork products from ‘Supermarket X’ was a common denominator.

A report, published last month by the government agency, found the virus strain has not been found in British pigs so could have come from imported meat.

Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, results in a mild and short-term infection unless the person has a pre-existing liver disease or is pregnant.

Symptoms of the virus can include feeling flu-like, yellowing of the skin and eyes, tiredness, fever, vomiting and loss of appetite. In rare cases it can cause liver failure and prove fatal.

PHE stressed that this “does not infer blame on the supermarket” and along with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said they will not be naming the store.

However, Tesco has been named by a number of sources and refuses to confirm or deny whether it is ‘Supermarket X’.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We work very closely with the FSA and PHE to make sure customers can be confident in the safety and quality of the food they buy.

“This particular research was carried out six years ago on a small number of people, and although it provided no direct link between specific products and hepatitis E we always take care to review research findings such as this.

“Food quality is really important to us and we have in place an expert team to ensure the highest possible standards at every stage of our supply chain, as well as providing clear information to customers on how to handle and cook pork in the home to minimise the risk of hepatitis E.”

Since 2010 PHE said there has been an “increase in the number of non-travel cases” of the virus, with figures showing infections have risen from 368 in 2010 to 1243 in 2016.

Implicated products

PHE's report states: “The implicated products are pork sausages, which require cooking prior to consumption, and ready-to-eat pre-packed ham.”

Researchers found the “own brand” sausages were significantly associated with infection.

An FSA spokeswoman said they are aware the report's findings and are reviewing all aspects of hepatitis E infection with other government departments and industry.

She said: “The risk from acquiring hepatitis E virus (HEV) from eating thoroughly cooked pork or pork products is low.

“As a precaution, the FSA advises consumers that all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.”