24th March 2023
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Spain investigating three cases of child hepatitis of unknown origin

This week health authorities in Spain have been investigating three isolated and unconnected cases of children suffering from severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin.

Aged between two and seven, the children are from Madrid, Aragón and Castilla-La Mancha. All were admitted to hospital and one has reportedly had a liver transplant at the La Paz Hospital (pictured). They are said to be recovering well.

On Monday, the Spanish Health Ministry had sent the regional governments an international health alert from the World Health Organization (WHO) due to similar cases having been detected among children in the UK in recent weeks.

According to a BBC report, British health officials are currently investigating a total of 74 cases in children across the UK since the start of this year. Officials are examining 49 cases in England, 13 in Scotland and 12 across Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said parents should be on the lookout for symptoms such as jaundice. The UKHSA also said there was ‘no link’ between these recent infant hepatitis cases and the Covid-19 vaccine, as none of the children involved had been vaccinated. International investigations to date have also found no link with cases of Covid infection.

The UK shared its concern with the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European body that monitors diseases, to find out if similar outbreaks existed in other countries.

The ECDC said the children in the UK had acute hepatitis, often presenting with jaundice, sometimes preceded by gastrointestinal symptoms including vomiting. The cause is not known because the common viruses that can cause hepatitis (Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E) were not detected in any of these cases, and the children had not been travelling. Some of the cases were mild and did not need treatment, but in a small number of cases the development was so harmful that it triggered liver failure and required life-saving transplants.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a broad term used to describe inflammation of the liver. Usually the result of a viral infection, it can also be caused by exposure to some chemicals, drinking too much alcohol, drugs and certain genetic disorders.

There are five main types of hepatitis caused by specific viruses – known as A, B, C, D and E – but none of those appear to have caused the liver inflammation seen in the children reported so far. Some types of hepatitis can pass without any serious problems, while others can be long-lasting.

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