Outbreak of hepatitis in children keeps doctors busy

Maria Cheng, The Associated Press

LONDON – Cases of a mysterious childhood liver infection that first emerged in the UK have now been detected elsewhere in Europe and the United States.

British officials last week reported 74 cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in children since January. However, the viruses normally responsible for hepatitis were not present, and experts are considering other possible sources.

Cases of hepatitis have now been detected in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement on Tuesday, without specifying how many infections had been detected. .

In the United States, officials in Alabama have identified nine infections in children between the ages of 1 and 6.

“Mild hepatitis is very common in children after various viral infections, but what you’re seeing now is very different,” said Graham Cooke, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London.

Some of the British patients required specialist care, some even needed a new liver.

The liver processes nutrients, filters blood, and fights infections. The infections caused symptoms such as jaundice, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Hepatitis can be fatal if left untreated.

While the exact cause of infections isn’t known, many suspect an adenovirus. Few of the children have tested positive for the coronavirus, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that genetic analysis of the virus is needed to identify possible links between the cases.

There are dozens of adenoviruses, some of which cause flu-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, and conjunctivitis. US authorities said all nine Alabama children have tested positive for the adenovirus, and officials are investigating a possible link to adenovirus 41, which usually causes abdominal inflammation.

Public health officials ruled out a link to COVID-19 vaccines because no children had been vaccinated.

WHO has stressed that despite the rise in adenovirus in the UK, the possible role this virus may play in the outbreak of hepatitis is uncertain. The UN agency has witnessed fewer than five possible cases in Ireland and three confirmed cases in Spain in children aged 22 months to 13 years.

The WHO added that given the explosion in the number of cases over the past month and the intensification of surveillance, it is “very likely” that more cases will be detected.

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