What you need to know:
- Hepatitis primarily affects the liver.
- Currently, Kenya is on high alert following the emergence of a new chronic form of Hepatitis affecting children.
- Infected children present with severe acute hepatitis, and increased levels of liver enzymes.
Hepatitis is a disease that primarily affects the liver. According to the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), the virus that causes hepatitis targets liver cells. This means that when infected with hepatitis, your liver may not be able to help your body digest food, store energy, and remove poisonous substances as normally as it is supposed to.
There are five types of hepatitis including hepatitis A virus (HAV), Hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C and virus (HCV). Each type varies from the other. According to the AKUH, the causes of Hepatitis will vary depending on the type of virus at play. “Drug or alcohol use can also cause this disease. There are also some cases where your body might attack healthy liver cells and result in Hepatitis."
According to the Ministry of Health, chronic hepatitis remains a significant health problem in Kenya. “Kenya is classified as a high prevalence zone for hepatitis. Morbidity and mortality rates are high and this is compounded by low disease awareness, absence of treatment protocol, and the virulent nature of the disease itself,” the Ministry of Health says in the national hepatitis guideline report, Guidelines for the Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis B and C Viral Infections in Kenya.
Out of the five types of Hepatitis, Hepatitis B and C have been identified as the most lethal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatitis B and C are responsible for 95 percent of Hepatitis-related sicknesses and untimely deaths. “Hepatitis D is less common and occurs only in association with hepatitis B. Hepatitis A and E are spread via contaminated food and water and cause acute infections and outbreaks in areas of poor sanitation and inadequate waste disposal,” the WHO says. In pregnant women, though, hepatitis E virus infection has been recorded to have a higher case fatality rate. The global health body adds that acute infections are often short-lived and resolved within a few weeks.
According to the CDC, many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected with Hepatitis. “If symptoms occur with an acute infection, they can appear anytime from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure,” the CDC states. The symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop. “Symptoms of hepatitis can include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice,” the CDC says.
Currently, Kenya is on high alert following the emergence of a new chronic form of Hepatitis affecting children. The alarm over the new form of Hepatitis was raised by the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. By mid-May 2022, over 343 probable cases had been reported in 21 countries. Out of these, 38 children required liver transplants while 9 died from the disease. “The clinical syndrome among identified cases is acute hepatitis which involves liver inflammation with markedly elevated liver enzymes,” the WHO said. The global health body says cases that are being reported have shown gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms involve abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
As these symptoms disappear, infected children present with severe acute hepatitis, and increased levels of liver enzymes. “Most cases do not present with fever. In addition, the common viruses that cause acute viral hepatitis (hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E) have not been detected in any of these cases,” the WHO states. Additionally, according to a report by the CDC, many of the new cases have been shown to be driven by adenovirus infection. Adenoviruses are common and typically cause mild cold- or flu-like illnesses. They can cause illness in people of all ages at any time of year.