US identifies 109 cases of severe hepatitis in children

In this April 23, 2020 file photo, a sign is seen by the entrance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. (TAMI CHAPPELL / AFP)

GENEVA / TUNIS – US health officials on Friday said they are investigating 109 cases of severe hepatitis of unknown origin in children, including five reported deaths, updating a nationwide alert issued in April for doctors to be on the lookout for such cases of the liver disease.

The cases have been identified over the past seven months in 25 states and territories, Doctor Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a conference call.

Fourteen of the children required liver transplants.

Doctor Jay Butler said around half of the 109 children diagnosed with hepatitis were also infected with a type of adenovirus, a virus that causes the common cold, but the agency is still investigating the exact cause of the illness

Butler said around half of the 109 children diagnosed with hepatitis were also infected with a type of adenovirus, a virus that causes the common cold, but the agency is still investigating the exact cause of the illness.

Hepatitis linked to this type of adenovirus has almost exclusively been associated with immunocompromised children, but many of the cases first reported to the CDC did not have immunocompromising conditions, Butler said.

He said the "vast majority" of the identified children were not eligible for COVID vaccination, which "appears to be unrelated to these cases."

The CDC is investigating whether COVID infection may be playing a role, as well as exposure to other pathogens, medications and animals.

Compared to pre-pandemic rates, the agency said it has not seen an overall increase in the incidence of severe hepatitis in children, which remains rare.

The World Health Organization earlier this week said it had received reports of at least 228 probable cases from 20 countries with over 50 additional cases under investigation.

An illustration picture shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on Nov 17, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Tunisia

Tunisia will stop using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (Janssen), the official Tunis Afrique Presse reported on Friday, citing a member of the country's scientific committee for fighting COVID-19.

Riad Daghfous, the expert, was quoted as saying that Tunisian health authorities will avoid using Janssen after the US Food and Drug Administration decided to limit its use due to worrisome complications, including blood clotting.

The FDA's recommendation to restrict the use of Janssen, he said, was based on the results of a recent study that demonstrated this vaccine had caused blood clots in some people in several countries around the world.

So far, no such cases resulting from the use of Janssen were recorded in Tunisia, Daghfous added.

According to the expert, 1.3 million doses of Janssen have already been used in this country since the onset of COVID-19.

The Janssen vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the United States on Feb 27, 2021.

WTO

The first World Trade Organization meeting to discuss a draft agreement to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines went "very well", its chair said on Friday, although some members voiced reservations.

The WTO's 164 members on Friday discussed the "outcome document" that stems from months of negotiations between the main parties – the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa – in an effort to break an 18-month deadlock over the issue.

"It went very well and here's why I say that. No member rejected the outcome as completely unacceptable," Ambassador Lansana Gberie from Sierra Leone, who chairs the council tasked with finding an agreement on the waiver, told Reuters after the closed-door meeting.

"Most said this could be developed into a negotiating text and that's the trajectory we have to follow."

However, two Geneva trade sources said after the meeting that some delegations had said the proposal fell short since it was too narrowly focused on vaccines, echoing criticism from some civil society groups.

The waiver idea, proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020, is supported by the majority of members of the global trade body.

But some wealthy countries including Britain and Switzerland have in the past raised objections on grounds that it could harm pharmaceutical research.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been involved in brokering the talks and wants a deal by the June ministerial conference, says an agreement would be "hugely important".

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The new draft deal, which has unresolved areas, must pass by consensus and any member of the organization has the right to a veto.

One delegate described Friday's meeting as the moment the deal would "float or sink".

Privately, some delegates have said a lack of public support for the deal by the main negotiating parties has sapped confidence among other members.