The WHO refers to the outbreak of severe liver inflammations as acute hepatitis of unknown origin among young children and says over 200 cases have been reported as of May 1.

The symptoms afflicting the children include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain — before their livers showed signs of inflammation.
The symptoms afflicting the children include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain — before their livers showed signs of inflammation. (Reuters Archive)

At least 228 probable cases of hepatitis of unknown origin in children have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from 20 countries.

"As of May 1, at least 228 probable cases were reported to WHO from 20 countries, with over 50 additional cases under investigation," the agency's spokesperson, Tarik Jasarevic, said on Tuesday.

Most of the cases are from Europe but there are others in the Americas, the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO was first informed on April 5 of 10 cases in Scotland detected in children under the age of 10. More than 100 cases have now been recorded in Britain.

Some cases have caused liver failure and required transplants. At least four children — three of them in Indonesia — are known to have died.

Many cases reported jaundice and gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting.

READ MORE: What we know about the mysterious form of hepatitis affecting children

Deadly disease

Indonesia's Health Ministry said three children had died in hospitals in the capital Jakarta last month, after displaying some of these symptoms.

The children —aged two, eight, and 11 — also had fever, jaundice, convulsions and loss of consciousness, the ministry's spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi said.

"At the moment, we suspect the cases as acute hepatitis but we need to confirm that they are not due to known hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and Rb," Tarmizi said.

The emergence of a possible new disease afflicting only young children — most are under the age of 10 with no underlying conditions — has shocked the global health community already grappling with Covid-19.

The WHO refers to the outbreak of severe liver inflammations as acute hepatitis of unknown origin among young children.

"It is not yet clear if there has been an increase in hepatitis cases, or an increase in awareness of hepatitis cases that occur at the expected rate but go undetected," it says on its website.

"While adenovirus is a possible hypothesis, investigations are ongoing for the causative agent," it added.

Adenoviruses are generally known to cause respiratory symptoms, conjunctivitis or even digestive disorders.

They are commonly spread by close personal contact, respiratory droplets and surfaces. There are more than 50 types of adenoviruses.

After the discovery of the first 169 cases, the WHO said common viruses that cause acute viral hepatitis (hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E) were not detected in any of them.

READ MORE: Dozens of 'mysterious hepatitis' cases found in Europe, US: WHO

Source: TRTWorld and agencies