Cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin detected in children in several countries

The World Health Organization is investigating these cases of sometimes severe liver inflammation. The usual hepatitis viruses were not detected in these sick children.

A “strange and alarming” type of hepatitis, according to Science magazine. The World Health Organization said on Friday it was monitoring dozens of children under the age of 10 in the UK for never-identified cases of hepatitis, while cases are also suspected in other countries.

The origin of this disease is currently unknown. The research was started by the United Nations and the UK health authorities. If there is no death, some cases in healthy children are serious. Six of them required a liver transplant.

Unknown origin

The alert began in Scotland on April 5 when the UK reported ten cases of acute hepatitis there. Three days later, 74 were identified. Suspected cases have also been spotted in Ireland and Spain, and “clinicians in Denmark and the Netherlands are also reporting similar cases,” reveals Science. Across the Atlantic, nine cases are being investigated in Alabama.

Jaundice, dark urine, abdominal pain (diarrhea, vomiting), muscle and joint pain, high temperature and fatigue are the symptoms noted by health authorities. They mainly affect children under 10 years of age and are characteristic of hepatitis.

This is called hepatitis because it is an inflammation of the liver. However, the usual viruses of this disease (A to E) have not been detected in affected children. The WHO has therefore announced that it is launching research “to understand the etiology of these cases”.

Several ways considered

Early hypotheses about what might be making these children ill include toxic exposure to food, drink, or toys. Scientists are also looking at other possible causes, such as environmental factors.

For now, however, the prime suspect is adenovirus, a group of viruses that commonly cause the common cold or respiratory infections. They can cause hepatitis, although healthy children rarely get seriously ill. These adenoviruses have actually been detected in several children affected by this disease.

Another hypothesis: a link with the Covid-19. Several of these children tested positive for SARS-Cov-2 before or during their hospitalization. A track that is being considered but is far from confirmed at the moment. The health authorities, on the other hand, rule out a connection with the anti-Covid vaccine because it was not administered to any of the children.

“No other epidemiological risk factors have been identified to date, including recent international travel,” the WHO added in a statement.

No cases detected in France

The UN organization warns of an imminent increase in the number of cases. “Given the increase in reported cases over the past month and improved case finding activity, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days,” she writes.

In France, as soon as the WHO announced it, Public Health France informed the doctors, in particular to analyze hospital data that could shed light on such cases on the territory. At this point in time, the agency is not detecting any increase in cases of acute hepatitis in France.

To protect against this disease, Meera Chand, from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), reminded that “normal hygiene measures” like washing hands “go a long way to reducing infections like the ones we are currently investigating”.

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