Kenya on high alert for mysterious hepatitis in children

Kenya is on high alert following reports of a mysterious form of hepatitis that is attacking children.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating 109 cases of severe hepatitis in children, including five deaths, to determine a cause, with adenovirus infection as a primary line of inquiry.

The new hepatitis is strange but Kenya is on high alert following a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC, said Prof Elijah Songok, virology and the Chief Research Officer at Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

“We are aware of the strange hepatitis but we have no cases in the country yet. We have not received any sample to test from hospitals or pediatric units but there is an alert among doctors,” he said.

“We are on the lookout for child hepatitis cases and we have the ability to screen and detect because we have [dealt] with hepatitis in the past.”

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver often caused by viral infections, but environmental factors can also play a role. It is not uncommon in children but it is usually not severe.

Since the WHO report of the disease outbreak was published on April 15, more cases of acute hepatitis of an unknown origin have been reported among young children.

Some 343 probable cases have been reported in 21 countries, with 26 children requiring liver transplants. Fifteen countries have reported five or fewer cases.

The WHO says more than 90 percent of the children were hospitalised, and 14 percent required liver transplants.

What is hepatitis and how common is it in children?

According to scientific studies, the most common hepatitis is of the B and C varieties, which are liver infections caused by the contagious hepatitis viruses. Heavy alcohol use, certain medications, and specific toxins can also cause hepatitis, as can some medical conditions.

Hepatitis isn’t common in children, especially one that is not linked to one of the hepatitis viruses.

According to a report by the CDC, one common element of the initial nine cases in Alabama was that all had bloodwork showing adenovirus infection.

Adenoviruses are common and typically cause mild cold- or flu-like illnesses. They can cause illness in people of all ages at any time of year.

What effect does hepatitis have on the body?

Hepatitis targets the liver, causing inflammation. Since the liver processes nutrients, filters blood and fights infections, these crucial functions can be affected by any damage to the organ.

Hepatitis can also be caused by heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions. In most cases, the sickness is caused by a virus. There are multiple forms of hepatitis, each of which is transmitted in different ways.

Extreme side effects may include liver failure, liver cancer, or death in children. The most important thing to do in a suspected case of child hepatitis is to get immediate medical intervention.

What are the symptoms parents should be on the lookout for?

Initial symptoms of Hepatitis are nonspecific, meaning that many people get these symptoms due to other causes. They include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and joint pain.

Later signs include dark urine and light-coloured stool, as well as jaundice – the skin turning yellow and yellow being seen in the whites of the eyes and eyelids.

Many children have viral illnesses that can cause gastrointestinal upset, fever and fatigue. If your child cannot keep fluids down, that’s a sign that you should contact your doctor. Also, if the symptoms are persistent and not getting better, or if your child starts getting lethargic, contact your doctor.

The most concerning signs are if you start seeing dark urine, light-coloured stool, and yellowing of the skin or yellowing in the whites of the eyes. You should seek immediate medical attention if your child starts general viral symptoms and then proceeds to have these signs.

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