Health experts are investigating the likely cause of a new liver disease in children, which was first reported in the UK in January 2022, and whether it has a link to coronavirus.
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Japan has detected its first probable case of a mysterious liver disease which has so far affected more than 170 children, mostly in Britain, as health experts explore its possible links to Covid-19.
Japan’s health ministry said on Tuesday that a child had been hospitalized with an unidentified type of severe acute hepatitis – or inflammation of the liver – in what is believed to be the first reported case in Asia.
As of April 23, at least 169 cases of the disease have been detected in 11 countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of these occurred in the UK (114), followed by Spain (13), Israel (12) and the US (9). The addition of Japan marks the 12th country to identify a case.
Among those infected, one child died and 17 required liver transplants.
The WHO said it is “very likely that more cases will be detected before the cause can be confirmed”.
Health experts explore Covid links
Children aged five or younger have so far been most affected by the disease, although cases have been detected in children aged between one month and 16 years.
Common symptoms including gastroenteritis – diarrhea and nausea – followed by jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Health experts are currently investigating the likely cause of the outbreak, which was first reported in the UK in January 2022, and whether it has a link to coronavirus.
Specifically, they are exploring whether a lack of prior exposure to common viruses known as adenoviruses during coronavirus restrictions, or prior infection with Covid-19, may be related. Alternatively, the genetic makeup of hepatitis may have mutated, leading to easier onset of liver inflammation.
Importantly, experts say there is no known link to the Covid-19 vaccine.
Typically, children are exposed to – and immune to – adenoviruses and other common diseases during their early childhood years. However, pandemic restrictions largely limited this early exposure.
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A strain of adenovirus called F41 so far looks like the most likely cause, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
“Information gathered through our surveys increasingly suggests that this increase in sudden hepatitis in children is linked to adenovirus infection. However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes,” said Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA.
Adenovirus was the most common pathogen detected in 40 of 53 (75%) of confirmed cases tested in the UK. Worldwide, that number was 74.
Covid (SARS-CoV-2) has been identified in 20 of those tested worldwide. Adenovirus and Covid-19 co-infection was detected in 19 cases.
The new case from Japan tested negative for both adenovirus and coronavirus, although officials did not reveal further details.
What are the symptoms and how concerned should we be?
Typically, children are exposed to – and immune to – adenoviruses and other common diseases during their early childhood years. However, pandemic restrictions largely limited this early exposure, leading to more severe immune responses in some.
Adenoviruses, which show cold-like symptoms such as fever and sore throat, are usually mild. However, some strains may display hepatic tropism or favor liver tissue, which can lead to more serious consequences such as liver damage.
The severity of this latest outbreak is not yet clear and will largely depend on how far it spreads over the next few months, according to Dr. Amy Edwards, assistant professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.
“Adenovirus is a ubiquitous virus and it is not seasonal. If it is a more serious form of adenovirus that causes liver disease in children, that is very concerning. But for the moment it’s isolated enough and there are enough cases not to jump to conclusions,” she said. CNBC.
Edwards said health authorities have been put on alert and will be monitoring the situation.
In the meantime, parents and guardians should be alert to common signs of hepatitis, including jaundice, dark urine, itchy skin, and stomach pain, and contact a healthcare professional if necessary. They are worried.
“Normal hygiene measures such as thorough handwashing (including supervision of children) and thorough good respiratory hygiene help reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenovirus,” Chand said from the l ‘UKHSA.
“Children with symptoms of gastrointestinal infection, including vomiting and diarrhoea, should stay home and only return to school or day care 48 hours after symptoms have resolved,” he said. -she adds.