The Spanish Ministry of Health has reported the first deaths due to a mysterious outbreak of acute hepatitis in children. On Thursday 4th August it was announced that both children, a 6 year boy from Murcia and a 15 month old baby in Andalusia, died after having liver transplants.
According to the Ministry of Health, among the 46 cases detected in Spain, three transplants have had to be performed so far.The third procedure was made a 3 year old girl in Aragon, who has responded well to the surgery.
The Ministry reassured the public that of the 46 cases picked up so far, the clinical outcome has been positive in 43 of them. The strange cases, the origins of which are unknown, have been detected in children ranging from the ages of 0 up to 16, with over half (60 percent) of the cases being in girls, according to recent data from the Ministry of Health.
Cases of hepatitis among children are not isolated to Spain, however. As of late June, the World Health Organization (WHO) had identified 894 suspected cases of acute childhood hepatitis across the globe – of which 30 percent resulted in hospital treatment.
As of 30 June, 473 cases of acute hepatitis have been reported in Europe across 21 countries. The European countries with the most cases so far are: Belgium (14), Italy (35), Portugal (19), Spain (40), and the United Kingdom (268).
The majority – 77 percent – of the severest infections were among children between the ages of zero and five.
Within Spain, Madrid has had the most cases so far, with 15. Then comes Catalonia (9); Galicia (5); Balearic Islands (4); Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia (both with 3 cases); Castilla y León and Andalusia (2, not counting the child who died) and Aragon and the Canary Islands have both had 1 case each.
The first reported cases began in early January, and like the broader European trend, the average age of the cases in Spain is very young – 5.3 years on average, with median age of 4 years old – and the majority (64.4 percent) of cases have been among young girls.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can prevent it from functioning properly. It can be both acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).
As of early August, neither the WHO, European medical agencies, nor the Spanish Ministry of Health have been able to conclusively say what is behind the spike in cases among children.
What are the symptoms?
Severe acute hepatitis can cause jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, stomach pains, and vomiting.
Dark urine, light-coloured stools, or itchy skin may also appear as symptoms.