India latest country to report child hepatitis

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India is the latest country to report an unusual spike in severe hepatitis cases among young children, believed to be linked to a virus that usually causes the common cold, as public health experts grapple to understand its exact origins.

A study by medics at the Bundelkhand Medical College (BMC), a leading hospital in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, found eight per cent of 475 children who tested Covid-19 positive between April and July 2021 went on to develop hepatitis.

There have been sporadic reports of a spike in hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver and requires a transplant in serious cases, among children who recovered from Covid-19 across India over the last two years but this is the first large scale study.

“We observed a peculiar rise in hepatitis cases. Usually, the beginning of the monsoon marks a rise in hepatitis cases but last year we started to see this in April, or summer, in Covid positive children who were part of follow-up,” said Sumit Rawat, the associate professor at the BMC, and one of the authors of the Indian study.

At least 450 cases of acute hepatitis have been recorded in young children worldwide since October, the majority of whom are under the age of five, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Eleven children have died and infections have been reported in 25 geographically diverse countries, including the United States, Israel and Indonesia. More than 170 young children have developed hepatitis in the United Kingdom since January and while there have been no fatalities, around 10 per cent of cases have required liver transplants.

Initial evidence appears to suggest the cause of the recent spike in cases could be caused by a new variant of the adenovirus, a type of viral infection that causes a large proportion of common colds. Infections are not being caused by any of the five main types of hepatitis, A, B, C, D, and E, seen previously.

Photo – An Indian boy wearing face mask gestures as he arrives from other states of India to Mumbai, at Dadar railway station in Mumbai, India. EPA-EFE/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI

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