In April 2022, cases of acute hepatitis of “unknown origin” in children were reported across the WHO European Region. Several cases also appeared in the Region of the Americas. In July 2022 the total number of reported cases was at least 1,000 in 35 countries. At least 22 patients have died, and several children have required liver transplants. However, liver transplantation is only possible in a few highly specialised centres, so it is imperative that we identify cases and find an effective treatment.

In an investigation by the University of Glasgow and University College London researches examined samples from 26 children with the hepatitis. Of the 26 samples, 25 children were also infected with the parvovirus AAV2 (adeno-associated virus 2). This is highly contagious but is “not known for causing illness”. Therefore the Glasgow group had to probe further for the answer to this mysterious hepatitis.  

The Economist reported in July 2022 that in 8 of 9 children with the  new hepatitis “they found variations in the Human Leukocyte Antigen gene”. These were “not commonly found in the 58 comparison children”. These variations are geographically concentrated in northern Europe, where the majority of these “strange hepatitis” have been observed.  

The WHO stated that additional work was required to continue identifying cases and determining the cause. In doing so, it hopes to “further refine control and prevention actions”.  

The Lancet described the rise of “conspiracy theories”, which attribute these novel cases to the Covid-19 vaccines. The vaccines have been “categorically ruled out”. Many of the children with the hepatitis were too young to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.  

Our post marking World Hepatitis Day 2022 explores the vaccine solutions to hepatitis available across the world. As a new threat emerges it will be critical that a cause can be identified, and treatment or preventative measures can be implemented, quickly and equitably. So far, the global community has not demonstrated such a practical approach.