Hepatitis of unknown origin: we know more about the nature of the disease, says WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday May 11 that it had identified 348 probable cases of this hepatitis of unknown origin, for which it favors the hypothesis of an adenovirus generally associated with gastroenteritis.

The nature of the hepatitis of unknown origin that has caused 348 probable and identified cases worldwide in recent weeks, mainly in children, may have been identified, according to the latest WHO statements. At a press conference conducted as part of its global hepatitis program, it suggested that the favored hypothesis led to an adenovirus, a class of virus known to cause conditions such as conjunctivitis, respiratory symptoms or digestive disorders.

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“Significant progress has been made with regard to further investigations and the refinement of working hypotheses,” said Philippa Easterbrook, of the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme. “At this time, the main hypotheses remain those involving the adenovirus, also taking into important consideration the role of Covid-19, either as a co-infection or as a prior infection,” she added.

70% of cases positive for adenovirus

Tests carried out last week confirmed that around 70% of identified cases were positive for adenovirus and its subtype 41, normally associated with gastroenteritis. The tests also showed that around 18% of the patients were positive for Covid-19. “Next week, we will focus on serological tests for previous exposures and infections to Covid”, specifies Philippa Easterbrook.

After the discovery of the first 169 cases, the WHO indicated that the viruses of hepatitis A, B, C, D and E were not detected in any of the patients. Most of them presented with gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting, or even jaundice. Some cases have caused liver failure and required transplantation.

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