EXPLAINER: Acute hepatitis in children outbreak, what we know so far

EXPLAINER: Acute hepatitis in children outbreak, what we know so far

The mysterious outbreak of acute hepatitis in children across the globe has baffled the World Health Organisation since it became noticeable in March, but what do we know so far?

The first cases seen in the mysterious outbreak of acute hepatitis cases in children were recored in Scotland, with 10 cases reported in children, aged between one and five years old, that led to hospital admission, with most of these cases being detected in March.

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) immediately issued the alert to warn doctors across Europe to be on the lookout for symptoms including: Marked elevation of transaminases, often accompanied by jaundice and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting.

Following their announcement, three cases of acute hepatitis were detected in Spain, in mid April, in Madrid, Aragon and Castilla-La Mancha.

At the time the following statement was given by Cristina Molera Busoms, coordinator of the Hepatology Working Group of the Spanish Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (SEGHNP): 

“The Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Centre has not reported an unusual increase in cases of acute hepatitis in children at the national level comparable to that of the United Kingdom since January.”

“It is expected that in the coming days and due to media coverage and the level of surveillance, isolated cases will be reported in different centres, which so far would be in line with the usual frequency.”

Just a few days later, on Saturday, April, 23, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that there had been at least 196 reported cases of children contracting acute hepatitis in 12 different countries including the UK, Spain, Denmark, Italy and France.

The UK had seen the majority of cases with 114 reported instances as of April, 21. 

Less than a week after the announcement by WHO, a report by the Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Centre which reports to the Ministry of Health, detected two unconnected cases of acute hepatitis in Andalucia, Spain, in people aged 0-16 years.

At the beginning of May, the first reported death, was announced with a Gaza child who died on Tuesday, May, 3, after contracting an unexplained case of acute hepatitis inflammation of the liver, as announced by the Gaza Health Ministry, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that at least 228 probable cases of childhood hepatitis had been reported worldwide.

A child’s death from acute hepatitis was reported by WHO a few days before the Gaza Health Ministry made the announcement, but it is still unknown whether it is the same case.

Just a week later on Tuesday, May, 10, cases skyrocketed, with the World Health Organisation stating that 348 cases of acute hepatitis in children had been reported globally across 20 countries.

So what are investigators’ current theories of what is behind the mysterious hepatitis outbreak seen in young children across the globe?

“In the last week there have been some important developments with the additional investigations and some refinements of the working hypotheses,” stated Philippa Easterbrook of the WHO’s global hepatitis programme, on May, 11.

“Currently the main hypotheses are those involving adenovirus, and the role of covid also remains important,” she told a news conference.

The UK Health Security Agency previously stated that adenoviruses, which are a family of common viruses normally the cause of mild colds, vomiting and diarrhoea, could be a factor in these hepatitis cases. 

Experts who are currently investigating and researching the mysterious child hepatitis outbreak have hypothesised that Covid lockdowns could have been a key factor in the weakening of children’s immunity, putting them at an increased risk of contracting an adenovirus.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) also proposed that a number of children that tested positive for the disease, all aged 10 or under, had come from families who own a dog, or had been exposed to a dog.

They added that “the significance of this finding is being explored.”

Questionnaires, completed by the families of those affected, found that 70 per cent of the children owned or had been exposed to a pet dog.

Health officials have been quick to point out that this might just be coincidence, with around half of all homes in the UK owning a pet dog. However, with a lack of any clear cause, all possibilities are being investigated.


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Written by

Joshua Manning

Originally from the UK, Joshua is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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