The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that 348 new cases of severe acute hepatitis in 20 different countries involving children aged 1 to 16 have now been reported, with most of the patients under the age of 10. Thus far, at least 17 children – or roughly five per cent – need liver transplants.
Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said the WHO has not yet determined the exact cause of the outbreak, which is being referred to as a “mystery disease” by experts.
Vandine stated on May 13 that WHO had received reports of the mystery hepatitis detected only in children from 20 countries beginning in April of this year.
Subsequent research in Europe, the US and the UK has determined that the disease is not associated with the known common causes of hepatitis.
Laboratory tests and research identified the presence of an adenovirus that is one of the most common viruses in the world, but that virus causes respiratory inflammation and has not been shown to affect the liver in the past, she said.
She noted that Cambodia has yet to detect new cases of hepatitis. However, she called for vigilance and laid out mechanisms to track patients.
“We are closely monitoring this situation and we call on health networks across the country to be careful and track patients with signs of hepatitis, and especially strengthen the tracking of the intake process under which patients are admitted to hospitals,” she said.
The ministry has also strengthened the capacity of laboratories to prepare for more thorough analyses of suspected cases in a timely manner, though no samples of the disease have been identified thus far.
“The WHO advises parents and guardians to maintain the personal hygiene of their children. In particular, they have to teach their children about good hygiene because we don’t yet know whether this infection can be caused by the environment or food poisoning or by other substances,” she said.
She advised that hand hygiene is still an important factor for protecting the health of children and adults, but especially the supply of food for children must be hygienic.
Food should be cooked well because the disease has appeared in otherwise healthy children and a food-borne vector was suspected because children had symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice of the skin and eyes as well as discoloration of the stool, she said.
The ministry’s Communicable Disease Control Department (CDC) said in early May that the CDC was now working with health departments across the country to identify children with this unknown form of hepatitis.
Nevertheless, health experts globally do not yet know what the exact cause of the hepatitis is because the adenovirus implicated is a common virus that causes symptoms like the common cold or flu with stomach and intestinal problems.
“It was not previously the cause of severe hepatitis in healthy children, although it has been linked to more serious disease in children with weakened immune systems,” the CDC said.