The WHO’s Emergency Response System Has Been Activated.
Just last month, a World Health Organization (WHO) representative assured VICE World News that the WHO is taking this global outbreak very seriously. It is working with countries around the world in an exchange of information and data collection. But experts say they are “baffled.”
Over two hundred children from the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Israel have been infected by the acute hepatitis-like disease. Indonesia is currently evaluating several more cases that may be part of the overall outbreak.
This week Indonesia announced three deaths possibly linked to the liver disease that has already hospitalized hundreds of children in various parts of the world. Public health workers are now on high alert.
The global health community was informed of the mysterious illness in April when they were told that three children in Indonesia died after experiencing acute hepatitis-like symptoms.
The health workers’ concerns grew considerably after learning that four more children are being treated at a hospital in Jakarta. The children have exhibited yellow marks on their skin, severe cases of diarrhea, seizures, and vomiting.
The Indonesian Ministry of health’s spokesperson reported that in April, three possibly unrelated, fatal cases were transferred to the General Hospital in Jakarta. The Children, who exhibited similar symptoms to the recent hepatitis cases, were two, eight, and eleven years old. Additional research on these cases should be available shortly.
Searching for Answers
The Indonesian investigations are just part of the global search for the cause of this unknown liver disease spreading across twenty countries.
The disease was first discovered in the United Kingdom in April. Since then, 228 healthy children have become sick with acute hepatitis. The youngest is only one month old. The oldest child is sixteen years old. Eighteen children have been given a liver transplant.
Some unusual occurrences involve the fact that it is very rare for children to become ill from hepatitis of an unknown origin. The number of cases alarms health officials. The officials have yet to make a connection with any of the common viruses usually associated with viral hepatitis.
The WHO noted that in the past there may have been an occasional report of hepatitis in children with no evidence of origin. But never have the number of cases been reported in such a large volume.
Another question yet to be resolved is why children and not adults appear to be affected by the outbreak. One explanation being offered is that most adults may have developed an immunity against the virus after being exposed to it during their childhood.
Thus far, the WHO scientists in its Global Hepatitis Program have not been able to find a link to one geographic area. Neither has it been able to find exposure to certain animals or foods, toxins, or commonality in travel.
However, it is encouraging that during the past week, progress has been made regarding the adenovirus. Questions arose as to whether it is a cause of hepatitis or simply an incidental finding.
Locating the Common Denominator
In seventy-four of the total number of cases, the adenovirus was listed as being the common denominator. Being more specific, the adenovirus type forty-one strain F was found in eighteen of the forty-one cases.
About the Type 41 Adenovirus
On April 23 of this year, the WHO issued a statement naming adenovirus type 41 as the cause of hepatitis among immunocompromised children. So far there has been no indication that it has caused the virus in healthy children.
It is typical for Type 41 to cause respiratory symptoms in children. Then considering the hypothesis that Type 41 is the underlying cause of the acute hepatitis outbreak, that leaves no explanation for the severity of the cases.
This was confirmed by Dr. Markus Buchfellner, infectious disease expert, who explained that adenoviruses occur quite frequently in children. However, most recover quite well and do not require specific treatment.
Indonesia’s health minister called for extensive mapping of all suspected cases of severe hepatitis as the number of confirmed cases continues to increase.