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

Global cases of acute hepatitis among children have grown sharply to 450 children across 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 an inflammation of the liver that can lead to imminent liver failure, a life-threatening condition. At present, 12 children have died globally during the ongoing outbreak.

In their initial report to the WHO, the 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 a three-week period. The typical number of cases of hepatitis of unknown etiology across Scotland would be fewer 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 global case count had risen to 74. All cases had tested negative for the usually suspected viruses. A number of children were documented to have been infected with an adenovirus or COVID-19, though other factors were being considered.

On April 15, the WHO released the first of three diseases outbreak alerts, asking health systems and public health officials to heighten their awareness and diligence in identifying, investigating and reporting hepatitis cases. They said, “Given the increase in cases reported over the past one month and enhanced case search activities, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days.”

By April 21, 169 cases had been reported across 12 countries, ranging in age from one month to 16 years old. The bulk of these cases were from the United Kingdom, while the US had observed eleven cases by then. At this time, the WHO made clear that the COVID-19 vaccines were not implicated in the hepatitis outbreak, as a significant majority of the impacted children were unvaccinated.

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

The recent spike in global pediatric hepatitis cases since late last month reflections additions made by the US 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 deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, noted that 90 percent of these children were hospitalized dating back to October 2021, when nine such cases were identified in Alabama. He said 14 percent required an emergent liver transplant and five of the children tragically died.

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