Three children in Indonesia have died from athe country’s health ministry said, raising to at least four the global death toll from a fatal ailment that has baffled doctors from the US to Asia.
This severe strain of acute hepatitis has been identified in nearly 170 children in 11 countries in recent weeks, prompting concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) about the “unknown origin” of the disease.
Symptoms that plague the children included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, before their livers showed signs of inflammation. The WHO previously reported at least one death.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry said in a statement Monday that three children had died in hospitals in the capital Jakarta last month after showing some of these symptoms.
The children also had fever, jaundice, seizures and loss of consciousness, he said.
“At the moment, the Ministry of Health is investigating the cause of acute hepatitis by conducting a full panel of virus tests,” he said.
The ministry also asked parents to take their children to hospital immediately if they show any signs of the symptoms.
The emergence of a possible new disease that affects only young children (most are under 10 years old and have no underlying conditions) has raised concern in a global health community already grappling with COVID-19.
The WHO said there had been an “unexpected significant increase” in cases among previously healthy young children in Britain, as well as in Ireland and the Netherlands.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study Friday of a cluster in Alabama where nine children also tested positive for a common pathogen called adenovirus 41.
The pathogen is known to cause gastroenteritis in children, but is “not generally known to cause hepatitis in otherwise healthy children,” the agency said.
The CDC issued a national health alert last month asking parents and providers to watch for symptoms and report any possible cases of unexplained hepatitis to state and local health departments.
“CDC is working with state health departments to see if there are additional cases in the US and what may be causing these cases,” the CDC said in the alert. “We continue to recommend that children be up-to-date on all their immunizations, and that parents and caregivers of young children take the same everyday preventive measures we recommend for everyone, including frequent hand washing, avoiding sick people, covering up when coughing and sneezing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth”.
Adenoviruses are commonly transmitted by close personal contact, respiratory droplets, and surfaces. There are more than 50 types of adenoviruses, the ones that most commonly cause colds, but also many other illnesses.