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HEALTH

Spain announces two child deaths from mysterious hepatitis outbreak

A six-year-old boy from Murcia and a 15-month-old baby in Andalusia have died of hepatitis amid 46 reported cases among children in Spain.

Spain announces two child deaths from mysterious hepatitis outbreak
Photo: Pixabay.

The Spanish Ministry of Health has reported the first deaths due to a mysterious outbreak of acute hepatitis in children. On Thursday 4th August it was announced that both children, a 6 year boy from Murcia and a 15 month old baby in Andalusia, died after having liver transplants. 

According to the Ministry of Health, among the 46 cases detected in Spain, three transplants have had to be performed so far.The third procedure was made a 3 year old girl in Aragon, who has responded well to the surgery.

The Ministry reassured the public that of the 46 cases picked up so far, the clinical outcome has been positive in 43 of them. The strange cases, the origins of which are unknown, have been detected in children ranging from the ages of 0 up to 16, with over half (60 percent) of the cases being in girls, according to recent data from the Ministry of Health.

World trend

Cases of hepatitis among children are not isolated to Spain, however. As of late June, the World Health Organization (WHO) had identified 894 suspected cases of acute childhood hepatitis across the globe – of which 30 percent resulted in hospital treatment.

As of 30 June, 473 cases of acute hepatitis have been reported in Europe across 21 countries. The European countries with the most cases so far are: Belgium (14), Italy (35), Portugal (19), Spain (40), and the United Kingdom (268).

The majority – 77 percent – of the severest infections were among children between the ages of zero and five.

Regional breakdown 

Within Spain, Madrid has had the most cases so far, with 15. Then comes Catalonia (9); Galicia (5); Balearic Islands (4); Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia (both with 3 cases); Castilla y León and Andalusia (2, not counting the child who died) and Aragon and the Canary Islands have both had 1 case each.

The first reported cases began in early January, and like the broader European trend, the average age of the cases in Spain is very young – 5.3 years on average, with median age of 4 years old – and the majority (64.4 percent) of cases have been among young girls. 

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can prevent it from functioning properly. It can be both acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).

As of early August, neither the WHO, European medical agencies, nor the Spanish Ministry of Health have been able to conclusively say what is behind the spike in cases among children. 

What are the symptoms?

Severe acute hepatitis can cause jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, stomach pains, and vomiting. 

Dark urine, light-coloured stools, or itchy skin may also appear as symptoms.

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ECONOMY

Increasing food prices put Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition

The skyrocketing prices of basic foods are putting Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition and increasing the use of food banks.

Increasing food prices put Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition

The effects of Spain’s rampant inflation and upwards price pressures on food are having an impact not only on Spaniards bank accounts, but their health too.

In Spain, supermarket prices have skyrocketed in recent months. The price of a melon, for example, recently topped €13, an increase so extreme that it highlights the nutritional quality of poorer Spaniards’ lives during times of economic hardship, and how they can be priced out of healthy, nutritious goods.

According to Spain’s national statistics body, the INE, in June of this year the prices of 46 household products were more expensive and above the overall Consumer Price Index (the rate used to calculate inflation, known as CPI) of 10.2 percent.

But in times of economic crisis, rising shopping basket prices can also effect the quality of nutrition people are able to access, and this is especially true in lower income families.

READ ALSO: Spain’s July inflation rate reaches new 38-year high

Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that food prices have reached their highest level since 1990.

The Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) warned in July of a 15.2 percent price increase in the price of food shopping in a year. OCU figures also point to a 52.6 percent increase in olive oil prices and a rise of 12.4 percent for fruit and vegetables.

Spaniards across the country are being priced out of balanced, healthy diets and surviving on a deficit of fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil – staples of the much famed Mediterranean diet – and types of the food products that have increased in price.

The rising price of staple foods can end up causing consumers to look to “low quality, cheap and appetite-relied” products, Professor of Nutrition at the Complutense University of Madrid, Jesús Román, told the Spanish press last week.

READ MORE: Rising inflation in Spain: Six cost-cutting ways to fight it

Rising prices, he says, forces poorer income families to “opt for cheaper foods that are usually of lower quality, restricting those that are healthier.”

Unable to afford to eat healthily, many Spaniards are now forced to opt for cheaper and unhealthier alternatives. The consequences are clear, particularly on children who can’t access a nutritional diet during their developmental years.

In a Report on Childhood Obesity in Spain put together by supermarket chain Eroski, they concluded that childhood obesity is “a form of excessive malnutrition that, in many cases, also continues in adulthood.”

Research by the International University of Valencia (VIU) indicates that in the decade between 2011 and 2021 the percentage of overweight children in Spain increased to almost 40 percent. Among adolescents, that figure is 30 percent.

The Spanish government recently introduced the National Strategic Plan for the Reduction of Childhood Obesity with the aim of reducing obesity rates by 25 percent over the next decade.

Spain is one of the EU’s member states with the highest correlation between the risk of child poverty and obesity, and with rising food prices making a healthier, balanced diet more expensive and difficult to access, the combination of post-pandemic economic recovery and record inflationary pressures on food prices could push more into poverty.

Data published last May by the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (Fesbal) shows that in 2022, 20 percent more Spaniards will visit and rely on food banks than in 2021.

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