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Hepatitis of unknown origin: what we know about this disease which only targets children


It is an inflammation that mainly affects children under 10 years old, some are hospitalized and six of them have undergone a liver transplant. Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, itching, yellowing of the eyes and skin. The first cases were detected in Scotland on April 5 before spreading to England, Wales and Ireland. Ten days later, 74 cases are counted in the United Kingdom, and some children have been affected more recently in Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark. Nine suspected cases have also been identified in children aged 1 to 6 in Alabama in the United States.

Viral or environmental?

For Robert Cohen, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Créteil hospital, it is difficult to know, at this stage, whether the origin of this hepatitis is viral or environmental. “A virus is suspected, that of the adenovirus, but it is a virus that is very often found in children so there is no certainty that it is he who is responsible”, he explains at the microphone of Europe 1 “In severe hepatitis, the first causes are not viral, they are toxic”, assures the specialist.

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“Everyone knows paracetamol, the famous doliprane: when you take too much, it can degenerate into toxic viral hepatitis, but there are also many other drugs. That’s why we are not completely surprised to see cases without a cause found and explorations are in progress”, continues Robert Cohen.

Two suspected cases in France

“Investigations are continuing in all countries reporting cases. Currently, the exact cause of hepatitis remains unknown,” writes the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but British investigators “consider an infectious cause to be most likely because of the clinical and epidemiological characteristics of the cases”.

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No deaths have been recorded, but some UK cases have required liver transplantation. Tuesday, in Lyon, two suspected cases were identified, two children aged 3 and 7 who consulted the same pediatrician. The regional health agency has confirmed that investigations are underway to determine if it is indeed this new form of hepatitis. “Cases of acute hepatitis of undetermined etiology in children are not rare. The occurrence of these two cases is not unexpected and does not, at this stage, indicate an excess of cases in France”, added the Public Health France agency, judging “other reports probably to be expected in the coming days” given the active search launched.

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