SWITZERLAND – Mysterious case of acute hepatitis in kids has infected about 700 children in 34 countries and claimed 10 lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The cause behind the liver disease that was first reported in the UK in April, remains unknown, baffling scientists.

There are five hepatitis viruses that typically cause the condition, which is an inflammation of the liver, but in all the cases included in this investigation, the usual causes of hepatitis have been ruled out.

More than 700 probable cases have now been reported to WHO from 34 countries, and a further 112 cases are under investigation. At least 38 of these children have needed liver transplants, and 10 have died,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, during a media briefing.

The WHO, he said, continues to work with countries to investigate the cause of hepatitis in these children.

Meanwhile, at the recently held World Hepatitis Summit 2022 the global health body along with World Hepatitis Alliance urged action to eliminate viral hepatitis.

It is estimated 354 million people globally are still living with this life-threatening infection and at least one person dies from viral hepatitis every 30 seconds. That’s over 1 million deaths per year — a greater toll than that from HIV and malaria combined.

At the 2016 World Health Assembly, world countries had made a historic commitment to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. 

Timely access to the hepatitis B birth dose is still low in many low- and middle-income countries. Lack of awareness, limited political commitment, as well as stigma and discrimination continue to stop people accessing testing and care.

Hepatitis is one of the most devastating diseases on earth, but it’s also one of the most preventable and treatable, with services that can be delivered easily and cheaply at the primary health care level,” Ghebreyesus said, at the Summit.

Many of the reasons people miss out on those services are the same reasons they miss out on services for other health challenges — accessibility and affordability, because of who they are, where they live or how much they earn.

“We call on all countries to commit to realizing the dream of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, as part of a broader commitment to universal health coverage based on strong primary health care,” the WHO chief said.

While it’s normal for some cases of hepatitis to have no clear cause, this particular event is “rare but serious,” the US CDC said.

WHO also noted that it “receives reports of unexplained hepatitis in children every year, but a few countries have indicated that the rates they are seeing are above what is expected.”

Experts are still working to figure out what’s causing the cases of severe hepatitis in children. Adenovirus 41 is the prime suspect but has not yet been the proven cause of this syndrome.

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