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Health Ministry reports 12 cases of mysterious liver disease in children

Hepatitis, or liver inflammation, has popped up in young patients in at least seven countries, but the usual viral culprits have not been present

Illustrative photo of doctors on their way to an emergency room, on October 31, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of doctors on their way to an emergency room, on October 31, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 12 cases of a mysterious liver disease in children that has popped up in Europe and the US, puzzling health officials.

Children have been diagnosed with hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in at least seven countries, including 74 cases in the UK, but the usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis were not found.

Scientists and doctors are considering other possible sources of the disease.

The Health Ministry asked hospitals and clinics to report any cases of liver disease in children after the cases surfaced abroad. Hospital officials reported 12 cases in recent months in the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva.

Schneider said all seven of its cases were children who had previously been infected with COVID-19.

Health officials are investigating the Israeli cases.

Additional cases of hepatitis had been identified in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement Tuesday, without specifying exactly how many cases were found.

US officials have spotted nine cases in Alabama in children aged 1 to 6.

“Mild hepatitis is very common in children following a range of viral infections, but what is being seen at the moment is quite different,” said Graham Cooke, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London.

Some of the children in the UK have needed specialist care at liver units and a few needed a liver transplant.

The liver processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. The infections caused symptoms like jaundice, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Hepatitis can be life-threatening if left untreated.

While it’s unclear what’s causing the illnesses, a leading suspect is an adenovirus. Only some of the children tested positive for coronavirus, but the World Health Organization said genetic analysis of the virus was needed to determine if there were any connections among the cases.

There are dozens of adenoviruses, many of them associated with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat and pink eye.

US authorities said the nine Alabama children tested positive for adenovirus and officials there are exploring a link to one particular version — adenovirus 41 — that’s normally associated with gut inflammation.

Public health officials ruled out any links to COVID-19 vaccines, saying none of the affected children was vaccinated.

The WHO noted that although there has been an increase in adenovirus in Britain, the potential role of those viruses in triggering hepatitis is unclear. WHO said there were fewer than five possible cases in Ireland and three confirmed cases in Spain, in children aged 22 months to 13 years.

The UN health agency said that given the jump in cases in the past month and heightened surveillance, it was “very likely” more cases will be detected.

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