Two possible cases of severe acute hepatitis identified in Alberta

‘It is important to remember that the definition for possible cases is very broad, which means that any child with severe liver inflammation for whom a cause is not found is being counted’

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Two possible cases of severe acute hepatitis with no known cause have been identified in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Wednesday.

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The chief medical officer of health said one patient has been treated and discharged from the hospital, while the other remains in hospital. Citing patient confidentiality, she said she could not provide information on where the cases were found but that they were both in children under the age of 16.

“It is important to remember that the definition for possible cases is very broad, which means that any child with severe liver inflammation for whom a cause is not found is being counted,” said Hinshaw. “There are many causes of hepatitis and it can take time to investigate to determine if there is a known cause. This means that a case may initially present in one of these possible unknown cause categories but, after further investigation or testing, a diagnosis may be determined. If that happens, the case would be removed from the possible case count.”

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Hinshaw said parents should understand that the reporting of these cases does not mean there is an elevated risk of disease in the community.

Alberta’s potential infections were reported after several other provinces identified cases. In Ontario, there have been seven probable cases found, including a child who needed to be flown from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa to SickKids hospital in Toronto for urgent treatment in December. The Canadian cases come amid clusters of the disease being found around the world, although health officials have stated it is too early to tell if the number of cases is different from in past years.

“More information is needed to assess the situation and any potential risks to people in Canada,” federal chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in a tweet this week.

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Symptoms relating to severe acute hepatitis include gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the World Health Organization.

Hinshaw said Tuesday that Alberta health officials have shared reporting guidelines with clinicians across the province.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Jason Copping said Wednesday that while wastewater data show Alberta may be past the peak of the latest wave of COVID-19, the provincial health-care system remained strained. The number of deaths in the province remained high last week, with an average of 10 people dying per day from May 3 to May 9, with 70 total deaths reported in that time frame.

“My heart goes out to all families and friends who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19,” said Copping. “Even though the BA.2 wave is coming down, it’s still circulating out there and we continue to urge everyone who hasn’t got their shot or hasn’t got their booster to please do so.”

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The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 decreased this week from 1,267 previously reported to 1,225. However, Copping said hospitals remain under pressure, with some facilities in Calgary and Edmonton continuing to operate above 100 per cent capacity. He said those high levels are being driven by COVID-19 cases alongside a late-season spike of influenza cases and the ongoing opioid crisis. He said people beginning to report issues to doctors at pre-pandemic levels is also driving numbers up.

After experiencing nearly two years of severely decreased reported influenza cases, Alberta is currently experiencing a flu spike. The latest numbers from the province show there have been 1,023 cases reported this season, which began in September 2021.

A total of 133 people have been hospitalized with influenza, including 12 who have been admitted to intensive care.

Three people have died.

“My sympathies are with those who have lost a loved one. Severe outcomes from influenza and other infections are always possible, especially for those with risk factors like older age or other health issues,” said Hinshaw.

— With files from Elizabeth Payne, Postmedia

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