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The hidden hazard of a barbecue summer

Tagged In:  Nursing

Is the nation's insatiable appetite for garden cookouts increasing our risk of contracting hepatitis E?

How do you spot a nurse at a barbecue? He or she will probably be the one checking to make sure the food has been thoroughly cooked!

As the summer barbecue season hots up, everyone should be aware of the dangers of undercooking certain meats. It's not just a dodgy tummy that we're risking. Recent research has shown a spike in cases of hepatitis E, which experts say could be linked to the barbecuing of pork. As many as one in 10 pork sausages sold in the UK is thought to be infected with the virus.  

Hepatitis E is relatively rare and the effects for most people are mild, so hospital nurses are likely to encounter few, if any, cases during their careers. However, it can be more serious. About 10% of those infected suffer significant effects, ranging from flu-like symptoms to life-threatening liver failure. Among pregnant women there's a risk of contracting a severe and rapidly occurring form of hepatitis that can lead to liver failure. With the British Liver Trust reporting that liver failure being fatal in up to 25% of infected pregnant women, any increase in the prevalence of the virus is concerning. 

The simple way to avoid the risk of hepatitis E is to make sure your bangers are properly cooked, preferably at a temperature of 70°C or more for at least 20 minutes. That's difficult when using a barbecue, which tends not to provide even cooking throughout the sausage. (As the Food Standards Agency so neatly puts it, 'charred doesn't mean cooked'.) That's why many experts advocate 'pre-cooking' meat such as pork or chicken in the oven and then finishing it off over coals to get that smoky barbecue taste.

If you don't pre-cook, it's important to turn meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to promote even cooking. It's also a good idea to cut open your sausages to make sure they're cooked ie there's no pink meat inside. If in doubt, the advice is simple: keep cooking.

We all love a barbecue. According to the National BBQ Week website, two in three UK households now own a barbecue grill and the average number of barbecues held per family each summer has risen from 2.5 around 10 years ago to over nine now. Therefore, educating people about the health risks has never been more important. The last thing we want is more strain on doctors and nurses from entirely preventable illness.

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