JAKARTA - A few more suspected cases of acute hepatitis among children have been reported in Indonesia after the deaths of three paediatric patients allegedly caused by the unknown liver ailment that has affected children across the globe, the country's Health Ministry said on Thursday (May 5).
The new cases were found after health agencies across the country were alerted to reported cases linked to jaundice, the ministry's spokesman, Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said in a virtual press conference.
The ministry is still verifying the cause of the latest infections among children under 16 years old, through a series of tests.
"There have been additional cases... but they are not confirmed as there are examinations that must be carried out through genome sequencing to detect with certainty that they are not hepatitis A to E," she said.
Jakarta's Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital has been appointed the key hospital to tackle the severe cases of the ailment, she added.
Three children, aged two, eight and 11, died in Jakarta's Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in April after displaying jaundice, preceded by digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting and severe diarrhoea.
These symptoms have also been found in a number of unexplained hepatitis cases among children in other countries, such as the United States and Britain.
Based on investigations so far, none of the family members of the deceased have a history of hepatitis or jaundice, or displayed similar hepatitis symptoms after the children were affected, according to the ministry.
The three also tested negative for Covid-19, while only the two-year-old had not been vaccinated against hepatitis.
The Health Ministry is still testing for viruses, including the adenovirus and hepatitis E virus. It will take 10 to 14 days for the tests to be concluded and the cause of the infections and deaths can be determined.
Globally, at least one other child has died from acute hepatitis following an increase of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children, while more than a dozen others have had liver transplants after contracting the disease, according to the World Health Organisation.
Singapore over the weekend confirmed a case of acute hepatitis in a 10-month-old baby and is probing if the case has similarities with those reported elsewhere.
Its Ministry of Health said the infant was infected with Covid-19 last December, but there is still no evidence that the acute hepatitis is linked to the coronavirus.
At Thursday's press conference, Indonesian paediatrician Hanifah Oswari rejected the emerging speculations that the acute hepatitis is triggered by Covid-19 vaccines taken by children.
"It's not true. There is no evidence that the acute hepatitis incidents are caused by the Covid-19 vaccine," he said.
He noted that, although some children who contracted viruses such as Covid-19 or adenovirus were also affected by acute hepatitis, it is likely a coincidence.
Professor Hanifah, the lead scientist for the acute hepatitis cases, also advised parents to be alerted early when children have digestive tract problems, and to take them immediately to hospital.
As acute hepatitis is likely to spread through digestive and respiratory tracts, the focus should be on preventing the entry of the virus, such as by practising hand hygiene and wearing a mask, he added.