Medical mystery: What parents need to know about severe cases of hepatitis

Doctors around the world are closely monitoring the growing number of severe cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in children.

According to the World Health Organization, as of April 21, at least 169 kids from 12 countries have gotten sick. They include the U.K., Spain, Israel, the US, Denmark, Ireland, The Netherlands, Italy, Norway and France.

There are no confirmed cases in Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) tells CTV News that it “is aware of reports of severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in young children in Canada.”

“These are being investigated further to determine if they are related to cases in the United Kingdom and the United States. As the investigation evolves, we will keep the public updated accordingly,” a spokesperson said.

Currently, doctors are aware of 114 cases in the U.K. which Dr. Deirdre Kelly, professor of paediatric hepatology at the University of Birmingham, said is highly unusual.

“The severe hepatitis for which there is no cause, we rarely see more than about 20, 25 max in the whole year. And we’ve seen 114 in the first 3 to 4 months of this year,” Kelly told CTV News. “These are perfectly normal children. They’ve got no comorbidities, and no other infections. And they’re developing severe hepatitis of which 10 per cent have required liver transplantation.”

Kelly said what’s important for parents to know is the majority of children are recovering spontaneously.

“While this is a serious disease if their child develops it, the chances are they will recover on their own,” said Kelly. “If their children do develop the symptoms of tummy ache, vomiting and diarrhea, keep a very close eye on them. If, by any chance, they start to go yellow, they’re getting yellow in their eyes or their skin, they should seek medical advice immediately.”

Kelly also said that the everyday safety measures many parents and families adopted during the pandemic will also help keep kids safe.

“They should (be) reassured it’s relatively unusual in normal children, and good hand hygiene as we’ve all been used to in the COVID pandemic, and good general hygiene in the home should be sufficient,” she said.

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