16 children in US infected with a rare form of hepatitis

Health officials are working to establish the cause of a mysterious form of hepatitis that has infected 16 young children in Northern Ireland.

More than 160 children across the UK have contracted the disease, called non-AE hepatitis or sudden hepatitis, and 11 have required a liver transplant.

Cases have been detected in 20 countries worldwide and most cases have affected children under the age of five.

The Health Surveillance Center said that to date, eight cases of the disease have been identified in children in the Republic.

It said all probable cases were in children aged between one and 12 and all were hospitalized.

One child received a liver transplant and a child who was treated for a severe form of hepatitis died.

Northern Ireland chief physician Dr Michael McBride urged parents to be aware and vigilant about the condition.

He said: “On non-AE hepatitis in children, we now have 16 confirmed cases in children in Northern Ireland, some of which required specialist treatment in other parts of the UK, including one that required a liver transplant.

“We are very grateful for the joint work that has continued throughout the UK, both in terms of public health response and also working with clinical teams to ensure that these children receive the best treatment and care.

“The important thing is that we maintain a high level of vigilance and awareness of this condition.

“There is an ongoing investigation to determine the cause.”

Dr McBride added: “It’s obviously critical when we’re dealing with a new presentation, especially when we’re not absolutely clear at this point, what’s causing it.”

Dr. Gillian Armstrong, of the Public Health Agency, said a range of factors are being examined to determine the cause of the condition.

She said: “We can confirm that there are now 16 cases of sudden hepatitis in young children in Northern Ireland that have not been linked to any of the pre-existing causes of hepatitis in children such as hepatitis AE or any other clear cause.

“We continue to work with our counterparts in other jurisdictions and investigations are being conducted by the UK Health Security Agency into the causes of these.

“Work is ongoing to assess a wide range of possible factors.

“One of the possible factors emerging is a link to adenovirus infection. This is a relatively common childhood infection that we have seen and is currently a case-control study underway to determine whether this is actually behind this increase in hepatitis in young children.

“However, there are a range of other possible causes that are currently being investigated, including a number of other infections as well as investigating toxins and environmental exposures.”

Dr Armstrong added: “We can confidently say that there is no link to a Covid-19 vaccine because the vast majority of these children were too young to be offered the vaccine.

“Hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important methods to prevent and control the spread of infections being investigated, so we would ask parents to encourage children to wash their hands regularly.

“If you have a child who shows signs of jaundice or you think their skin or the whites of their eyes have a yellow tinge, please seek urgent medical attention.

“The risk to the entire population is low, it is relatively rare and the vast majority of children have recovered completely without long-term effects. However, a very small number have had significant health complications and require a liver transplant.”

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