United Kingdom: 5 minutes to understand this hepatitis of unknown origin that affects children

At a time when Covid-19 is passing relatively inconspicuous, another disease challenges the health authorities in this month of April. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that it will launch an investigation into hepatitis of unknown origin detected, for the most part, in young British people.

Who are the victims?

This hepatitis, never identified in the past, mainly affects children under 10 years of age. So far, nothing new. “Hepatitis in children can occur, it is not uncommon, but it is always more annoying to see children affected by an epidemic,” says Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, a specialist in infectious pathologies, who recalls that a large part of the cases detected were prone to to acute illnesses. hepatitis. Some cases required transfer to a specialized liver disease ward. Others, six, to date, have had to undergo a transplant.

How many cases have been reported?

In total, the United Kingdom has reported 74 cases of acute hepatitis to the World Health Organization, according to a latest census made public on Friday. “Of the confirmed cases, 49 are in England, 13 in Scotland and the others in Wales and Northern Ireland,” details the UK health security agency. Five confirmed or possible cases have also been reported in Ireland, and three in Spain, according to the WHO, which expects further reports in the coming days. No deaths have been recorded.

Nor has any case been detected in France to date, but Yazdan Yazdanpanah does not rule out this happening. “As long as it affects several geographical areas, several countries, it is possible”, estimates the scientist, “attentive” to the appearance of this disease.

What are the symptoms?

The disease in question is manifested by symptoms detected in many forms of hepatitis. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) lists the main ones: “dark urine, pale gray stools, itchy skin, yellowing of the eyes and skin, muscle and joint pain, high temperature, abnormal fatigue, loss of appetite and stomach pains”.

Why do we talk about hepatitis?

Hepatitis literally is an inflammation of the liver. “It is caused by the inflammation of liver enzymes, that is, cells in the liver are killed and markers rise, and this is usually followed by jaundice, more commonly known as jaundice,” details Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah. Therefore, it is a doubt in this specific case of hepatitis, in the sense that the liver is the mainly affected organ, but no known viral hepatitis (A to E) has been detected in the affected children.

What could this new disease be due to?

Several pathways are being studied because hepatitis “can be viral, drug-induced or even food-borne,” explains Yazdan Yazdanpanah. The WHO stressed this Friday that Covid-19 or an adenovirus had been detected “in several cases”, which has been increasing in recent weeks in the United Kingdom. However, his role “is still unclear,” continues the organization. “Is it a coincidence that the affected children are carriers of Covid-19? It is quite possible, believes Yazdan Yazdanpanah. Studies will have to determine this. “Other non-infectious factors are also being studied, such as the trace of a food cause. The only certain thing is that the link with the Covid vaccine has been ruled out, since the latter has not been administered to any of the confirmed cases in the United Kingdom.

What to do to protect yourself from it?

“You have to follow the usual ground rules, wash your hands,” Yazdan Yazdanpanah recommends. These measures “help reduce many of the infections that we are investigating,” justifies Meera Chand, of the British Health Security Agency. She also calls on parents to remain vigilant for possible signs in their children and, if necessary, to contact a health professional. At the moment, “no other epidemiological risk factor has been identified to date, in particular recent international travel,” says the WHO, which “closely follows the situation” and does not recommend any travel restrictions with the United Kingdom and other countries where cases have been identified.

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