The state of Rio de Janeiro is investigating six suspected cases of severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children, one of which resulted in the death of an eight-month-old baby.
According to the Rio State Secretariat, the victim was from Maricá, in the metropolitan region of Rio.
The other cases monitored by the health surveillance of Rio de Janeiro are three residents of the capital, one from Niterói and the other from Araruama. Ages range from 2 months to 8 years.
The folder issued an alert to the 92 municipalities in the state and highlighted that suspicions need to be reported and monitored.
In addition to these cases, the Ministry of Health reported that it also monitors three patients in Paraná with suspected disease. Confirmation depends on the results of further tests.
Acute hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that occurs quickly and abruptly. In many cases, an organ transplant may be necessary, as has been the case.
Outbreak in over 20 countries
Mysterious hepatitis cases started in the UK in April and soon spread to more than 20 countries.
As of May 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) had 228 confirmed cases of pediatric hepatitis of unknown origin and more than 50 cases under investigation. Those numbers, however, have already increased this week as countries have announced more confirmations.
There have already been at least four confirmed deaths – one reported by British authorities and three by Indonesia. The United States also investigates deaths.
The symptoms seen include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale stools, and joint pain.
Another important sign of the disease is jaundice – when the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow.
What is causing the outbreak?
Acute hepatitis in previously healthy children is rare and what is striking is that the typical viruses that cause the disease were not detected in any case.
The strongest hypothesis so far is that the cases could be linked to adenovirus type 41, which is commonly associated with colds but which can also cause pneumonia, diarrhea and conjunctivitis.
This virus, according to the WHO, has been detected in at least 74 children with the disease.
Although this adenovirus has been linked to hepatitis in children with weakened immune systems, it is not known to be a cause of hepatitis in healthy children, which has been happening.
Other theories are still being raised and studied (see some here). It may still take researchers a while to get to the real reason for the outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) regards the situation as a “very urgent” issue and said it is giving “absolute priority” to it.