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INFLAMED LIVER

Kenya alert as Europe reports strange disease outbreak

WHO advises against travel restrictions but predicts more children will be infected

In Summary

• Kenyan Ministry of Health has asked health workers to be on the lookout for  symptoms in children. 

•The disease is classified as hepatitis, which means inflammation of the liver.

Puzzled scientists are searching for the cause of the strange outbreak and the leading theory is that an adenovirus, a family of viruses that more typically cause colds.
Puzzled scientists are searching for the cause of the strange outbreak and the leading theory is that an adenovirus, a family of viruses that more typically cause colds.
Lab technician sorts and barcodes samples at KEMRI headquarters.
NEW DISEASE: Lab technician sorts and barcodes samples at KEMRI headquarters.
Image: MERCY MUMO

Health authorities in Kenya are on high alert after the World Health Organization confirmed a strange disease is spreading in Europe and the United States.

The illness is causing swelling of the liver in young children, leading to jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

The WHO advised against travel restrictions, saying the situation is not yet out of control, although more cases are expected.

“WHO does not recommend any restriction on travel and/or trade with the United Kingdom, or any other country where cases are identified, based on the currently available information,” the organisation said in a statement.

No country in Africa has reported the disease, which broke out in Britain last week.

However, the Kenyan Ministry of Health has asked health workers to be on the lookout for the symptoms in children.

“Given the increase in cases reported over the past one month and enhanced case search activities, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days,” WHO said.

The disease is classified as hepatitis, which means inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis can have many different causes although viral hepatitis (including hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C) is most familiar.

WHO said laboratory testing has excluded hepatitis types A, B, C, and E viruses (and D where applicable). However, many of the children tested positive for adenoviruses, best known for causing the common cold.

This family of viruses is transmitted through the respiratory route or by touching contaminated surfaces.

Puzzled scientists are now searching for the cause of the outbreak.

Some suspect isolation of the youngest children during the pandemic lockdown may have left them immunologically vulnerable. They were not exposed to the multiplicity of viruses, including adenoviruses, that typically attend toddlerhood.

But so far, the evidence is too thin to resolve the mystery, researchers and physicians say.

“Laboratory testing for additional infections, chemicals and toxins is underway for the identified cases,” WHO said.

The UK outbreak comes as WHO says Africa is experiencing its longest-running decline in weekly Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.

Recorded weekly cases have fallen for the past 16 weeks and deaths for the last eight, the latter dropping to 239 in the past week, it said in a statement.

The upcoming cold season in the southern hemisphere could prompt a new spike in cases, WHO said.

"With the virus still circulating, the risk of new and potentially more deadly variants emerging remains, and the pandemic control measures are pivotal to effective response to a surge in infections" WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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