A mystery strain of severe hepatitis – inflammation of the liver – found in 11 countries has led to the death of one child, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). So far, at least 169 cases have been identified in children aged from a month to 16 years old, with the majority in Britain, which has reported 116 cases since January.
Other countries including the United States, Israel, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain have also reported smaller numbers of cases.
While one child died from the “acute, severe” hepatitis strain, 17 children have required liver transplantation, the agency further said.
While mild paediatric hepatitis is not unheard of, severe hepatitis in previously healthy children is rare.
The WHO said that the causative agent behind the reported cases remains unknown. It said that adenovirus is a possible hypothesis, but investigations are going on to identify the causative agent.
Many cases reported gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, increased levels of liver enzymes aspartate transaminase (AST) or alanine and jaundice. Other children reported symptoms like dark-coloured urine, sickness, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, light-coloured stools and joint pain.
“International travel or links to other countries based on the currently available information have not been identified as factors,” said the WHO.
A particular cause of concern it that the cases are not linked to the typical viruses usually linked to the condition – hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
“This is still a very low number of cases, but they are children, that is the main concern, and the other thing is the severity,” Maria Buti, a hepatology professor from Barcelona and chair of the European Association of the Study of the Liver’s public health committee told news agency Reuters. She has been following the outbreak closely with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
Public health alerts in the United States and Europe have asked doctors to be on the lookout for the condition, and to test children for adenovirus if they suspect hepatitis.