We determined the hepatitis E virus (HEV) seroprevalence and detection rate in commercial swine herds in Italy's utmost pig-rich area, and assessed HEV seropositivity risk in humans as a function of occupational exposure to pigs, diet, foreign travel, medical history and hunting activities. During 2011–2014, 2700 sera from 300 swine herds were tested for anti-HEV IgG. HEV RNA was searched in 959 faecal pools from HEV-seropositive herds and in liver/bile/muscle samples from 179 pigs from HEV-positive herds. A cohort study of HEV seropositivity in swine workers (n = 149) was also performed using two comparison groups of people unexposed to swine: omnivores (n = 121) and vegetarians/vegans (n = 115). Herd-level seroprevalence was 75·6% and was highest in farrow-to-feeder herds (81·6%). Twenty-six out of 105 (24·8%) herds had HEV-positive faecal samples (25 HEV-3, one HEV-4). Only one bile sample tested positive. HEV seropositivity was 12·3% in swine workers, 0·9% in omnivores and 3·0% in vegetarians/vegans. Factors significantly associated with HEV seropositivity were occupational exposure to pigs, travel to Africa and increased swine workers’ age. We concluded that HEV is widespread in Italian swine herds and HEV-4 circulation is alarming given its pathogenicity, with those occupationally exposed to pigs being at increased risk of HEV seropositivity.