Doctors scramble for answers as mysterious outbreak of sudden hepatitis is spreading across the world, reaching 450 children in at least 20 countries.
The unknown strain also approximates Australia with Indonesia reporting 15 cases and Singapore reporting a 10 month old child.
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At least 11 children died, and there are suggestions that the epidemic can continue for a while.
Unexplained cases were detected in at least 163 children in the UK11 of whom received liver transplants, reports the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Apart from Europeinfections have also been reported in the United States, Canada, Japan and South Korea, among other countries.
Global agencies are working with the World Health Organization to determine the cause of the outbreak.
“Research is currently being carried out jointly by Indonesia in collaboration with the WHO and we are also working with America and the United Kingdom to be able to quickly detect what is causing it,” the minister said this month. Indonesian Health, Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
But despite the continued growth in cases, there remain more questions than answers.
What are the possible causes?
In general, there can be hundreds of potential causes of hepatitis: inflammation of the liver can result from toxins, viruses, or contaminated food and water. But scientists are still in the dark on the origins of the mysterious strain.
What researchers do know is that the infections are not caused by a virus that scientists already associate with hepatitis.
The most common of these are the five hepatitis viruses – hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
Although there are many unknowns, scientists have some leads.
Earlier this month, health experts made headlines for investigating whether dogs could be linked to the mysterious outbreak, but a professor of comparative immunology, Mick Bailey, said it was unlikely.
“The data suggesting this link is extremely weak – in fact, probably much weaker than most of the alternative hypotheses that have been proposed,” he said in The conversation.
In a recent information documentthe UK Health Safety Agency has reported a high number of “dog exposures” in these cases.
However, Bailey urges people to examine the results in detail.
“To suggest a link, it is important to show not only that exposure to dogs in patients is high, but that it is higher than in unaffected children,” he said.
“The cases in children do not suggest that the infection is transmitted between children – there are too few cases, too widely distributed for that. Likewise, the distribution of cases does not suggest that this is a new virus transmitted from dogs to children. Cases have appeared in other countries much faster than a canine virus would spread between dogs.
The main theory is an adenovirus, which often causes cold or flu symptoms or stomach problems.
But it is rare for an adenovirus to have such a severe impact on the liver.
Tissue and liver samples recently taken in the UK do not “show any of the typical features one would expect with inflammation of the liver due to adenovirus, but we await further examination of the biopsies,” Phillipa said. Easterbrook, senior scientist at the WHO.
Some experts question whether pandemic lockdowns have led to reduced exposure to adenoviruses in general, perhaps making young children more vulnerable to them.
“Social distancing during the pandemic has reduced transmission of a range of diseases, and a lack of exposure to these may have left some children unprepared for infections that would not normally cause a problem,” Bailey said.
“Similarly, lack of exposure to dirt resulting from handwashing, sterilization of surfaces, and other hygiene measures may have predisposed children to overly reactive immune responses (as has been suggested for allergic diseases), and hepatitis may be caused by the immune response rather than a virus.
But experts also haven’t ruled out the possibility that COVID-19 could be an underlying contributor since the surge of cases appears to have arisen during the pandemic.
Bailey wants worried parents to remember that at this point these are just theories and there isn’t enough data to prioritize any of them or use them to suggest control measures. .
As to whether the outbreak will reach Australian shores, the chairman of the Australian Center for Hepatitis Virology, Dr Thomas Tu, says it is too early to tell.
“We basically don’t know at this point, so I think now is not the time to panic,” he said. 7NEWS.com.au earlier.
“It’s something we absolutely need to investigate and find out what’s really going on and understand how scared we should be and how we can prevent this.”
The UKHSA advises parents and carers to be alert for signs of hepatitis in children, including:
- Yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Pale gray stools
- Itchy skin
- Muscle and joint pain
- feel and be sick
- feeling unusually tired all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
– With NBC
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