Spain sounds alarm about mysterious hepatitis in children


About 650 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown etiology have been reported worldwide, according to WHO figures

Spain has registered 30 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin since the beginning of this year, according to a new situation report from the Ministry of Health.

The mystery illness has mainly affected young children, with 24 of the patients aged 10 and under. None of the patients are related, the ministry noted, and there are no epidemiological links between the cases.

“It is necessary to continue intensive monitoring and to continue studies to confirm or rule out whether there is an increase in cases of unknown hepatitis compared to what is expected,” the ministry noted Friday, admitting it was still unclear whether the cases exceeded the usual baseline or not.

The first patient showed symptoms on January 2, according to the situation report. The finding suggests that the disease actually surfaced well before early April, when cases of acute hepatitis were reported from multiple, mostly European, countries, as well as the US.

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According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), some 650 suspected cases of the disease in children were reported between April 5 and May 26. Another 99 cases are under investigation.

The acute hepatitis has so far been detected in 33 countries, the UN health watchdog noted, adding that scientists worldwide still haven’t identified its causes.

“The etiology of this severe acute hepatitis remains unknown and is under investigation; the cases are clinically more severe and a greater percentage develop acute liver failure compared to previous reports of acute hepatitis of unknown etiology in children,” The WHO said this on Friday.

The watchdog urged its members to conduct more research into the nature and causes of hepatitis, noting that it remains unclear whether the number of reported cases is abnormal or within the usual baseline.

“Member States are strongly encouraged to identify, investigate and report possible cases that meet the above case definition”, according to the WHO. “For all cases that meet the case definition, whole blood, serum, urine, stool, respiration, and liver biopsy (if available) samples should be taken.”

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