COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to decline around the world, but South African scientists who identified the omicron strain reported two more sub-variants, World Health Organization Director Tedros Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
Ghebreyesus told a press webinar that COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to decline globally, with the lowest level of weekly deaths recorded since March 2020.
“But these trends, while welcome, do not tell the whole story. Driven by omicron subvariants, we are seeing an increase in reported cases in the Americas and in Africa,” Tedros said.
“South African scientists who identified omicron late last year have now reported two more subvariants of omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, as the reason for an increase in cases in South Africa,” the WHO director said.
He also said it is too early to know whether these new subvariants may cause more severe disease than other omicron subvariants, and recommended vaccination for protection.
Still, early data suggests that vaccination still protects against serious illness and death, Ghebreyesus said.
“The best way to protect people remains vaccination, along with proven public health and social measures,” Tedros said. “This is another sign that the pandemic is not done with us.”
Hepatitis of unknown origin
In the same webinar, the WHO said the number of children with hepatitis of unknown origin, which emerged in the UK last month and was later detected in other countries, had risen to at least 228 in 20 countries.
Responding to questions about hepatitis, Philippa Easterbrook, a WHO researcher on HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, said the health organization is investigating 50 cases that have been reported.
The Indonesian Ministry of Health announced on Monday that three children diagnosed with the hepatitis virus of unknown origin had died in hospital.
Easterbrook said: “We are investigating all infectious or non-infectious causes of the source of the virus. So far this virus has not been found to have originated from any region, food or poison.”
Great Britain reported for the first time a significant and unexpected increase in cases of severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in young, generally previously healthy children.
According to the WHO, on April 23 several other countries reported an unexpected increase in such cases.
Gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting, were reported in many cases, preceding the presentation of severe acute hepatitis.
Most of the cases had no fever, but adenovirus had been detected in numerous cases.
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