United Kingdom: 5 minutes to understand this hepatitis of unknown origin which affects children

At a time when the Covid-19 is relatively discreet, another disease challenges the health authorities in this month of April. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday to launch research on hepatitis of unknown origin detected, for the most part, in young British people.

Who are the victims ?

This hepatitis, never identified in the past, mainly affects children under 10 years old. So far, nothing new. “Hepatitis on children can happen, it is not uncommon, but it is always more annoying to see children affected by an epidemic”, comments Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, specialist in infectious pathologies, who recalls that a large part of detected cases were prone to acute hepatitis. Some cases required transfer to a specialist liver disease ward. Still others – six, to date – have had to undergo a transplant.

How many cases have been reported?

In total, the United Kingdom has reported 74 cases of acute hepatitis to the World Health Organization, according to a latest census made public on Friday. “Of the confirmed cases, 49 are in England, 13 in Scotland and the others in Wales and Northern Ireland”, details the health security agency of the United Kingdom. Five confirmed or possible cases have also been reported in Ireland, and three in Spain, according to the WHO, which expects new reports in the coming days. No deaths have been recorded.

No case has also been detected in France to date, but Yazdan Yazdanpanah does not rule out this happening. “As long as it affects several geographical areas, several countries, it is possible”, estimates the scientist, “attentive” to the emergence of this disease.

What are the symptoms ?

The disease in question is manifested by symptoms detected in many forms of hepatitis. The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) lists the main ones: “dark urine, pale gray stools, itchy skin, yellowing of the eyes and skin, muscle pain and joints, high temperature, abnormal fatigue, loss of appetite and stomach aches”.

Why do we speak of hepatitis?

Hepatitis, literally, is an inflammation of the liver. “It is caused by inflammation of the liver enzymes, that is to say that cells are killed in the liver and markers climb, and this is usually followed generally by jaundice, more commonly known as jaundice”, details Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah. It is therefore a question in this specific case of hepatitis, in the sense that the liver is the organ mainly affected, but no known viral hepatitis (A to E) has been detected in the affected children.

What could this new disease be caused by?

Several avenues are being studied because hepatitis “can be viral, drug-induced or even food-borne,” explains Yazdan Yazdanpanah. The WHO stressed on Friday that Covid-19 or an adenovirus, which has been on the rise in recent weeks in the United Kingdom, had been detected “in several cases”. However, their role “is not yet clear”, continues the organization. “Is it a coincidence that the children affected are carriers of Covid-19? It is quite possible, believes Yazdan Yazdanpanah. Studies will have to determine this. “Other non-infectious factors are also being studied, such as the trail of a food cause. The only certainty is that the link with the Covid vaccine has been ruled out, as the latter has not been administered to any of the confirmed cases in the United Kingdom.

What to do to guard against it?

“You have to follow the usual basic rules, wash your hands,” recommends Yazdan Yazdanpanah. These measures “help to reduce many of the infections we are investigating”, justified Meera Chand, of the British Health Security Agency. It also calls on parents to remain attentive to the emergence of possible signs in their children and, if necessary, to contact a health professional. For the time being, “no other epidemiological risk factor has been identified to date, in particular recent international travel”, assures the WHO, which “closely monitors the situation” and does not recommend any restriction of travel with the UK and other countries where cases have been identified.

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