The Materno Infantil hospital in Malaga has seen three cases of the new type of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children so far, and all have recovered well. In two cases the illness was mild and there were no complications; the third suffered a bleeding disorder but did not need intensive care unit treatment and made good progress, said sources at the hospital.
Between 1 January and 26 May in Spain, there were 30 serious cases of this illness in children, and 24 of them were under the age of ten. None of them had had any contact with any of the others. The cases occurred in ten different regions of the country. One of the children suffered liver failure and needed a transplant.
The World Health Organization says it has recorded over 650 cases of this hepatitis in children in 33 countries, and another 100 are waiting for their diagnosis to be confirmed.
Although the cause of this illness is not known, pediatrician Juan José Díaz, a specialist in digestive illnesses in children, says there is no reason to panic. “There are serious cases of hepatitis in children every year. The number so far in Spain is not alarming and no special preventive measures are needed. When a child has symptoms, they are not going to pass unnoticed. Parents need to take them to see a doctor and he or she will decide on the most suitable treatment, as with any other hepatitis,” he says.
Research is being carried out into the cause of this type of hepatitis, and there is speculation that it is due to a type of virus – adenovirus 41 – as this has been detected in many young patients. However, many of them have also had Covid-19, so it could be that this hepatitis is an anomalous reaction of the immune system because remnants of the Covid virus still remain in the children’s intestine.
“The children could be infected by adenovirus 41, which in other circumstances would only be very minor, but the immune system is somehow reacting abnormally to it. But that is only one theory and there has been nothing to prove it so far,” says Dr Díaz.
The symptoms of hepatitis are non-specific: they could include tiredness, fever, digestive problems and vomiting. When there is more evident inflammation of the liver, the skin and whites of the eyes look yellow, and the urine becomes very much darker. But these symptoms do not always occur.
In serious acute hepatitis some children suffer liver failure and need a transplant, but in Spain so far that has only occurred in one case and it is not certain that the liver failure was caused by the hepatitis.