Hepatitis of unknown origin: cases in children in France and other European countries

Less than a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in dozens of children in the UK, but also in Spain, France is now concerned. “Two cases of acute hepatitis, the etiology of which is still unclear, have been reported by the University Hospital of Lyon,” Public Health France (SPF) said on Tuesday.

The two cases discovered in France affect children under the age of 10 and are being investigated by medical teams. But SPF wants to be careful: “Cases of acute hepatitis of unknown etiology in children are not uncommon. The occurrence of these two cases is not unexpected and does not indicate an excess of cases in France at this time. Given the active search for cases initiated by health authorities, more reports are likely to be expected in the coming days,” the public body states.

According to the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), “additional cases in children have been reported in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain”. Nine suspected cases have also been identified in children ages 1 to 6 in Alabama, United States, ECDC reports. “Investigations continue in all countries reporting cases. At present, the exact cause of the hepatitis remains unknown,” writes the ECDC, but British investigators “consider an infectious cause the most likely based on the clinical and epidemiological characteristics of the cases.” On Friday, the WHO said it expected new reports in the coming days and have already reported “less than five” cases in Ireland and three in Spain.

No deaths registered

At the request of AFP, the ECDC was not able to provide the number of cases by country. No deaths were recorded, but some UK cases required liver transplants. “Laboratory evaluation of the cases ruled out viral hepatitis types A, B, C, D and E in all cases,” ECDC said. The UK first reported 10 cases of severe hepatitis in Scotland to the WHO on April 5, before reporting a total of 74 cases three days later, according to the UN body.

Among the UK cases, “many cases showed signs of jaundice”. According to ECDC, “Some of the cases reported gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting in the previous weeks.”

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