The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a warning following a significant increase in the incidents of pediatric liver infection (hepatitis) in a number of countries around the world, including Israel. In light of the WHO's warning, the Israeli Ministry of Health directed the country's healthcare providers to carefully monitor all relevant cases.
According to the WHO, as of April 21, 2022, at least 169 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin have been reported from 11 countries in Europe and the United States as follows: United Kingdom (114), Spain (13), Israel (12), the United States (9), Denmark (6), Ireland (<5), The Netherlands (4), Italy (4), Norway (2), France (2), Romania (1), and Belgium (1).
The children range in age from one month to 16 years old. The condition of seventeen children deteriorated to the point that they needed liver transplantation, and one death has now been reported.
“At the moment, the cause of the outbreak is unclear,” explains Professor Ronen Arnon, Senior Physician, Head of Pediatric Liver, Gastroenterology, and Pediatric Nutrition at Rambam Health Care Campus. “The assessment is that a virus is most likely causing the illness, but at this stage, the virus has not been identified and it has not yet been determined whether this is a known virus or something new. At the same time, we are examining other hypotheses, including a reaction to chemicals or other toxins present in these areas. Alternatively, this may be some type of post-COVID reaction,” said Professor Arnon.
Professor Arnon previously chaired the Research Committee of the American Society for Pediatric Liver Transplantation. He observed that it is not uncommon—even in serious cases of liver infection requiring a liver transplantation—that the cause of the infection cannot be determined. “In many cases examined by doctors they are not able to reach a diagnosis, but because there is a multiplicity of cases in this situation in a very short period of time and in concentrated areas, it raises a red flag,” he said.
The WHO is closely following the situation worldwide, and recently, the Israeli Ministry of Health issued detailed criteria for monitoring the situation in Israel.
Despite the recent outbreak, Professor Arnon emphasized that at this point, there is no particular cause for concern. If, however, symptoms of liver infection appear, children should be brought to the hospital for prompt evaluation. “Everyone needs to pay attention to signs of jaundice, pale bowel movements, dark urine, or when children simply complain of exhaustion or not feeling well, as these may be signs of liver infection,” he cautions.