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We can remain calm as the virus is rare

Standing in front of the Paediatric Clinic in Ljubljana along with Miroslav Petrovec from the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology and paediatrician and infectious disease specialist Tatjana Mrvič, the Minister of Health Janez Poklukar gave a statement regarding the severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children.

Over the past 14 days, the Department of Infectious Diseases has treated one child with what is suspected to be hepatitis of unknown origin, but it is a mild case. After staying at the hospital for two days, the child, over the age of 10, is already in home care. It cannot be confirmed with certainty that this is a case of hepatitis of unknown origin, as there are many other similar syndromes, such as infectious mononucleosis.

The Minister said: “I kindly ask parents to watch out for the symptoms, but to stay calm as this is an extremely rare virus. Symptoms include jaundice, light-coloured stool and dark urine. I would also like to remind them to adhere to the basic hygiene measures, which include good hand hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette, and keeping a safe distance from people exhibiting signs of respiratory infection. The Slovenian professional circles are alert to this issue, and the paediatricians, infectious disease specialists and general public have been provided with appropriate recommendations.”

Miroslav Petrovec from the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology said that diagnosing hepatitis is part of well-established diagnostics that is being implemented on a daily basis. “In this case, a special type of adenovirus might be appearing, causing diarrhoea. But the appropriate diagnostics has already been in place in Slovenia for a number of years, and collaboration between the institutions handling these patients is at the highest level. A case can be confirmed within hours,” Petrovec emphasized, adding that we should keep in mind when browsing the internet that having an adenovirus infection “does not necessarily mean that the individual has the syndrome we’re talking about today”.

Tatjana Mrvič, paediatrician and infectious disease specialist, and head of the hospital infection management service at the Ljubljana University Medical Centre, said that although this is a rare disease, parents should nevertheless watch out for any signs of jaundice, light-coloured stool and dark urine. If they notice these symptoms, they should take their child to a paediatrician.

The virus was first reported in Scotland; on 31 March 2022 news came of five cases of severe acute liver infection of unknown origin in children aged between three and five, all of which occurred within the previous three weeks. By 23 April, 169 cases had been registered worldwide. Seventeen children (10%) needed a liver transplant, and at least one child died because of the disease. According to the data available thus far, there is no epidemiological link among the children who have fallen ill.

While the cause of the disease is currently unknown, experts of all the leading institutions and associations managing outbreaks of this type have already sprung into action, headed by the World Health Organization. They are examining the epidemic dimensions of the disease, changes in the patients’ liver, and a series of possible disease causes/agents, which they are analysing carefully, along with the genetic and immunological characteristics of patients.