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” hepatitis, according to the journal Science. The World Health Organization announced on Friday that it is monitoring dozens of children under the age of 10 in the United Kingdom for cases of hepatitis never identified, while cases are also suspected in other countries.

The origin of this disease is currently unknown. Research has been launched by the United Nations and British health authorities. If no death is to be deplored, some cases in healthy children are serious. Six of them needed liver transplants.

Unknown origin

The alert started 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,” Science reveals. Across the Atlantic, nine cases are being investigated in Alabama.

Jaundice, dark urine, stomach aches (diarrhea, vomiting), muscle and joint pain, high temperature and fatigue are the symptoms identified by health authorities. They mainly affect children under the age of 10 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 avenues considered

Early hypotheses about what could be making these children sick include toxic exposure to food, drink or toys. Scientists are also looking into other possible causes such as, for example, environmental factors.

However, for now, the main suspect is adenovirus, a group of viruses that often cause colds or respiratory infections. They can cause hepatitis, although healthy children rarely become seriously ill. These adenoviruses have, in fact, 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 which is considered but which is for the moment far from being confirmed. The health authorities, on the other hand, have ruled out any link with the anti-Covid vaccine since 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 activities, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days,” she writes.

In France, as soon as the WHO announced, Public Health France informed doctors, in particular to analyze hospital data which could shed light on such cases on the territory. At this stage, the agency does not note an increase in cases of acute hepatitis in France.

To guard against this disease, Meera Chand, of the British health security agency (UKHSA) recalled that “normal hygiene measures” such as hand washing “help a lot to reduce infections like the ones we are investigating. currently”.

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