What to do to protect children from the hepatitis outbreak?

Investigations into the outbreak of acute hepatitis in children are ongoing. The exact cause of the disease remains unknown. Health officials in several countries say there is no reason to panic, but warn of ways to protect children.

The most important thing is to watch out for symptoms, such as diarrhea or vomiting, and signs of jaundice, a condition that turns the skin and whites of the eyes yellow. In such cases, medical attention should be sought immediately.

PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) recommends taking basic hygiene measures, such as washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. This care also serves to prevent the transmission of adenovirus, which is considered the strongest hypothesis for the cause of mysterious hepatitis.


Credit: Mehmet Hilmi Barcin/istockCases of acute hepatitis in children increase worldwide

Outbreak in over 20 countries

The outbreak was first reported by UK health authorities in early April. On April 19, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control announced additional cases in Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland. It also flagged cases in the US state of Alabama.

Now there are more than 20 countries with confirmed cases of acute hepatitis in children.

According to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO), released on May 1, at least 17 children have needed liver transplants since the outbreak began.


Credit: Rasi Bhadramani/istockAt least 17 children needed a liver transplant

Investigated causes

All reported patients are younger than 10 years old, and many are younger than 5 years old. The children are not testing positive for the typical hepatitis viruses — A, B, C, D or E, which adds to the mystery.

Doctors found that some of the children diagnosed with the mystery disease tested positive for a specific type of adenovirus infection: adenovirus 41F.

This virus causes a common infection in children, with respiratory symptoms, diarrhea and vomiting, but is not known to be associated with hepatitis.

The WHO has prioritized investigations into the outbreak and said this is a “very urgent” issue.

“It is very urgent, and we are giving it absolute priority and working very closely with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control on management and coordination,” said WHO Regional Director for Emergencies in Europe, Gerald Rockenschaub.

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