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The unexplained cases have been detected in at least 163 children in the United Kingdom11 of which have had a liver transplant, reports the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Outside Europeinfections have also been reported in the United States, Canada, Japan and South Korea, among others.
Global agencies are working with the World Health Organization to determine the cause of the outbreak.
“Investigations are now being conducted jointly by Indonesia in collaboration with WHO and we are also working with America and the UK to quickly detect the cause,” Indonesia’s health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said this month.
But despite the continued growth in the number of files, there are still more questions than answers.
What are the possible causes?
In general, there can be hundreds of possible causes of hepatitis: liver inflammation can be the result of toxins, viruses, or contaminated food and water. But scientists are still in the dark about the origin of the mysterious tribe.
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.
While there are many unknowns, scientists have some clues.
Earlier this month, health experts made headlines to investigate whether dogs could be linked to the mysterious outbreak, but comparative immunology professor Mick Bailey says it’s unlikely.
“The data suggesting this link is extremely weak — in fact probably a lot weaker than most of the alternative hypotheses that have been proposed,” he said in a statement. The conversation†
In a recent briefing documentthe UK Health Security Agency reported a large number of “dog exposures” in these cases.
However, Bailey urges people to take a closer look at the results.
“To suggest an association, 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 passed between children – there are too few cases for that, too widespread. Likewise, the distribution of cases does not suggest that this is a new virus that is passed from dogs to children. In other countries cases have emerged much faster than a canine virus would spread between dogs.”
The leading theory is an adenovirus, which often causes cold or flu-like symptoms or stomach problems.
But it is rare for an adenovirus to affect the liver so severely.
Tissue and liver samples taken recently in the UK “do not show any of the typical features you would expect from adenovirus liver inflammation, but we are awaiting further examination of biopsies,” said Phillipa Easterbrook, a senior scientist at the WHO.
Some experts question whether pandemic lockdowns have reduced exposure to adenoviruses in general, which may have left young children more vulnerable to them.
†Social distancing during the pandemic has reduced the transmission of a whole host of diseases, and lack of exposure to them has left some children unprepared for infections that wouldn’t normally cause a problem,” Bailey said.
Likewise, the lack of exposure to dirt from hand washing, surface sterilization and other hygiene measures may have predisposed children to overreactive immune responses (as has been suggested for allergic diseases), and hepatitis may be caused by the immune response rather than a virus.”
But experts have also not ruled out the possibility that COVID-19 could be an underlying cause, as the wave of cases appears to have originated during the pandemic.
Bailey wants concerned parents to remember that at this stage these are just theories and there isn’t enough data to prioritize any of them or use them to suggest control measures.
As for whether the outbreak is reaching Australian shores, Dr Thomas Tu, president of the Australian Center for Hepatitis Virology, says it’s too early to say.
“At this stage, we don’t really know, so I don’t think it’s time to panic,” he said 7NEWS.com.au earlier.
“It’s something that we absolutely have to investigate and figure out what’s really going on and figure out how scared we should be and how we can avoid that.”
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-colored stools
- Itchy Skin
- Muscle and joint pain
- Feeling and being sick
- Feeling unusually tired all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach ache
– With NBC
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