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228 probable cases of child hepatitis: WHO

Mystery liver disease kills three children in Indonesia

Geneva - At least 228 probable cases of hepatitis of unknown origin in children have now been reported to the World Health Organization from 20 countries, the UN health agency said Tuesday.

"As of May 1, at least 228 probable cases were reported to WHO from 20 countries, with over 50 additional cases under investigation," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva. Most of the cases are from Europe but there are others in the Americas, the Western Pacific, and Southeast Asia, he said.

The WHO was first informed on April 5 of 10 cases in Scotland detected in children under the age of 10. More than 100 cases have now been recorded in Britain.

Some cases have caused liver failure and required transplants. At least one child is known to have died. Many cases reported jaundice, and gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

The WHO refers to the outbreak of severe liver inflammations as acute hepatitis of unknown origin among young children. "It is not yet clear if there has been an increase in hepatitis cases, or an increase in awareness of hepatitis cases that occur at the expected rate but go undetected," it says on its website. "While adenovirus is a possible hypothesis, investigations are ongoing for the causative agent," it added.

Adenoviruses are generally known to cause respiratory symptoms, conjunctivitis, or even digestive disorders. After the discovery of the first 169 cases, the WHO said common viruses that cause acute viral hepatitis (hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E) were not detected in any of them.

Three children in Indonesia have died from mysterious liver disease, the country's health ministry said, raising to at least four the global death toll of a fatal ailment uzzling doctors from the US to Asia. This severe strain of acute hepatitis has been identified in nearly 170 children across 11 countries in recent weeks -- raising concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) of the disease's "unknown origin". The symptoms afflicting the children include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain -- before their livers showed signs of inflammation. At least one death was previously reported. Indonesia's Health Ministry said that three children had died in hospitals in the capital Jakarta last month, after displaying some of these symptoms. The children -- aged two, eight, and 11 -- also had fever, jaundice, convulsions and loss of consciousness, the ministry's spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi told AFP. "

At the moment, we suspect the cases as acute hepatitis but we need to confirm that they are not due to known hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and Rb," Tarmizi said. She added that the Health Ministry was currently investigating the cause of the disease by running a full panel of virus tests. The ministry also called on parents to immediately take their children to hospital if they showed any sign of the symptoms. The emergence of a possible new disease afflicting only young children -- most are under the age of 10 with no underlying conditions -- has sent ripples of concern through a global health community already grappling with Covid-19.

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