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Transmission of HEV: risk from the environment and waste water in Scotland

About This PhD Project

Project Description


In Scotland, the number of Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections are increasing yearly, since 2011 laboratory confirmed cases have increased 15-fold. Although believed to be acquired via the consumption of contaminated or infected food products, particularly undercooked pork products, the modes of HEV transmission are not fully understood. A number of food products, including shellfish, soft fruits and leafy vegetables have been associated with HEV detection and/or infection, however, we do not know the impact of the environment on contamination of these products.

The detection of HEV in Scottish shellfish, and other cultivated food products is indicative that contamination is indeed occurring. This raises several questions as to whether current water treatment processes, either human and agricultural, are sufficient to inactivate the virus where present.

Recent data shows that HEV shed in the faeces is significantly more persistent and infectious than HEV present in blood products. This information further enhances the need to determine what risks are posed to health with respect to water safety and quality. If we can break the chain of contamination then it is possible to reduce risk.

In addition, HEV is found globally and is endemic in many developing countries. Resource-limited countries often experience large outbreaks of HEV infection. By investigating and understanding the effects of various sewage treatments methods on HEV, we intend to investigate the options for developing nations on alternative, low-cost and improved water treatment methods which may reduce the incidence and severity of future HEV outbreaks.


The initial aim of the project is to investigate the presence of HEV in the environment. Two approaches will be taken, firstly the collection of samples from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, sewage outfall, agricultural and abattoir run-off and hospital waste that would ultimately enter watercourses. These will also be examined for HEV and cross-referenced with circulating human strains. Analysis of HEV isolated in untreated sewage will also provide vital community surveillance of the HEV strains circulating amongst the Scottish population. Secondly to determine whether sewage treatment measures (i.e established tertiary treatments) are effective for the inactivation and/or removal of HEV.

Research Strategy and Research Profile

This proposal is a collaboration between the Schools of Health and Life sciences and Computing Engineering and the Built Environment. The area of emerging micropollutants in water (PILLS, noPILLS), safe management of organic wastes from farming (BATFarm) and engagement on behaviours and perceptions regarding the safety of private water supplies, have an increasingly microbiological context and this project will build on the opportunities that exist in SHLS and SCEBE under the OneHealth and HydroNation Scottish and UK policy drivers.

Cross school collaboration with CEBE, fits with the university research strategy of public health, in particular, One Health, sustainability, clean water.

2020 Strategy

Glasgow Caledonian University’s research is framed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, We address the Goals via three societal challenge areas of Inclusive Societies, Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments. This project is part of the research activity of the Research Groups – Molecular Mechanisms of Diabetes and Long Term Conditions, and the Water Research Group.

How to Apply

Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Some research disciplines may require higher levels.

Candidates should have an interest in developing a career in environmental virology.

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying. Applicants should complete the online GCU Research Application Form, stating the Project Title and Reference Number (listed above).

Please also attach to the online application, copies of academic qualifications (including IELTS if required), 2 references and any other relevant documentation.

Please send any enquiries regarding your application to: Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview.

For more information on How to apply and the online application form please go to

Dr Colin Hunter

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