JAKARTA: Indonesian officials are investigating a mystery outbreak of liver disease in children, the health ministry said on Wednesday, after the first deaths were confirmed in the country.
The World Health Organization has been warning of a severe type of acute hepatitis of unknown cause and origin identified in at least 169 children, aged between one month and 16 years, in 11 countries as of late April.
The children have required care at specialist pediatric liver units, and some have had liver transplantation.
Prior to signs of liver inflammation, they have experienced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry said this week that three children had died in a hospital in the capital Jakarta after displaying some of the symptoms, raising the global death toll to at least four.
“We’re still in the process with the Jakarta Health Agency, the samples are still undergoing further investigation,” ministry spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi told Arab News.
“We suspect this to be severe cases of acute hepatitis. One sample has a high probability, the other two are still being examined.”
The disease is not associated with hepatitis viruses A to E — typical infectious causes of the disease.
The ministry has requested that parents immediately take their children to hospital if they display any of the known symptoms.
The outbreak may be related to COVID-19, according to Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University, in Australia.
“A potential cause of this emergence of hepatitis has been linked to the existence of a new variant, or maybe a new sub-variant of (the virus) that caused COVID-19,” he told Arab News.
“But this is something we still have to wait for (to confirm).”
The child deaths, he added, were a signal that the mystery outbreak was “serious” and the actual number of cases in Indonesia and around the world was likely to be much higher than reported.
He said: “Amid the limitations of our detection systems, I can say that it is an iceberg phenomenon.”