At least 450 children in 20 countries now suffer from acute hepatitis

Global cases of acute hepatitis in children have risen sharply to 450 children in at least 20 countries since the outbreak was first brought to the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Scottish National Health Service in early April. Acute hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that can lead to impending liver failure, a life-threatening condition. At present, 12 children have died worldwide during the ongoing outbreak.

In its initial report to WHO, NHS Scotland wrote that “five children aged three to five presented to the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow with severe hepatitis of unknown etiology within three weeks. The typical number of cases of hepatitis of unknown etiology in Scotland would be less than four per year.

Children and their caregivers arrive for school in New York, Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

As of April 8, the global number of cases had risen to 74. All cases had tested negative for the viruses usually suspected. A number of children have been documented as having been infected with adenovirus or COVID-19, although other factors have been considered.

On April 15, WHO issued the first of three outbreak alerts, asking health systems and public health officials to increase awareness and diligence in identifying, investigating and reporting cases. of hepatitis. They said: “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.”

As of April 21, 169 cases had been reported in 12 countries, ranging in age from one month to 16 years old. The bulk of those cases came from the UK, while the US had seen 11 cases at the time. At that time, the WHO made it clear that COVID-19 vaccines were not implicated in the hepatitis epidemic, as a large majority of affected children were unvaccinated.

On Tuesday, the WHO announced that the number of probable cases of hepatitis in children now stands at 348 in 20 countries across five regions of the world.

The recent spike in pediatric hepatitis cases around the world since late last month reflects additions made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their ongoing investigation. There are currently 109 such cases in the United States out of a total of 25 states and territories.

Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director of infectious diseases at the CDC, noted that 90% of those children have been hospitalized since October 2021, when nine such cases were identified in Alabama. He said 14% needed an urgent liver transplant and five of the children died tragically.

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