ECDC: Around 95 cases of mysterious child hepatitis in 15 EU countries

While a total of 228 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin across 20 countries has now been registered, around 18 liver transplants have been performed as a consequence and one death has been reported, says the WHO. []

Fifteen EU countries have reported cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children, while health authorities continue trying to figure out the cause.

As of 5 May, approximately 95 cases of acute hepatitis with unknown origin in children aged 16 and under have been reported across 15 EU/EEA countries, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) told EURACTIV.

Cases have been reported in Austria (2), Belgium (3), Cyprus (2), Denmark (6), France (2), Germany (1), Ireland (<5), Italy (35), the Netherlands (6), Norway (2), Poland (1), Portugal (4), Romania (4), Slovenia (1) and Spain (22).

“Investigations are still ongoing with regards to the cause of these cases. ECDC is in regular communication with the colleagues in the member states, the UK, as well as with the US CDC, where investigations are also ongoing,” the ECDC said.

But this is not just a problem within Europe’s borders.

At a World Health Organisation (WHO) press briefing on Wednesday, medical expert Philippa Easterbrook said that 228 cases, 18 liver transplants and one death were reported in 20 countries across five WHO regions.

This number is likely to have increased since then.

The expert emphasised that cases of the virus are still rare but that parents should seek medical advice if their child has persistent symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea or develops jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver usually caused by a viral infection or excessive drinking of alcohol. There are several common types, such as A, B, C, D and E. As the ECDC has also previously confirmed, these cases had no connection to the common types of hepatitis.

Cases of unknown hepatitis strain reported among children in EU

Cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin were reported among children in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, the European Centre for Disease Control said on Tuesday (19 April). 

Causes under investigation
“The current leading hypothesis is that a cofactor affecting young children having an adenovirus infection, which would be mild in normal circumstances, triggers a more severe infection or immune-mediated liver damage,” the ECDC informs.

Other infectious or toxic agents are still under investigation and have not been excluded but are considered less plausible. The disease pathogenesis – the origin and development – and transmission routes are also still unknown.

According to Easterbrook on Wednesday, “considerable progress has been made over the last week with a comprehensive set of in-depth studies to complement what’s already known and to drill down into the key hypothesis, particularly about whether adenovirus really is a cause of hepatitis and not just an incidental finding.”

In the meantime, the European Commission and ECDC are keeping a close eye on developments and working with the WHO to investigate further.

“The EU is following this situation very closely. It is a concerning situation,” said European Commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides at a press conference on Wednesday

“I would like to use this opportunity to strengthen the call from the ECDC, who has reached out to member states asking that they share all information with us, so we are able to monitor the situation very closely,” Kyriakides added.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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