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

Worldwide cases of acute hepatitis in children have surged 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 worldwide have died during the ongoing outbreak.

In their first report to WHO, NHS Scotland wrote that “five children aged three to five presented with severe hepatitis of unknown etiology at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow within a three-week period. The typical number of hepatitis cases 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)

By April 8, the worldwide number of cases had risen to 74. All cases had tested negative for the usually suspected viruses. A number of children were documented to be infected with an adenovirus or COVID-19, although other factors were considered.

On April 15, the WHO issued the first of three disease outbreak warnings, asking health systems and public health officials to raise awareness and commitment to identifying, investigating and reporting cases of hepatitis. They said, “Given the increase in the number of reported cases over the past month and the improved search activity for cases, 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 majority of these cases came from the UK, while the US had seen 11 cases by then. At that time, the WHO made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccines were not involved in the hepatitis outbreak, as a significant majority of affected children had not been vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the WHO announced that the number of probable cases of childhood hepatitis now stands at 348, spanning 20 countries in five global regions.

The recent spike in global pediatric hepatitis cases since late last month reflects the additions of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their ongoing investigation. There are currently 109 such cases in the US from a total of 25 states and territories.

dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, noted that 90 percent of these children were hospitalized in October 2021, when nine such cases were identified in Alabama. He said 14 percent needed an emerging liver transplant and five of the children died tragically.

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