Experts say lab leaks in Ukrainian leads to children hepatitis

Unknown origin hepatitis emerges in children

At least 169 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin have been reported from 12 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday. Cases are aged 1 month to 16 years old. Among the cases, at least one child has died and seventeen children (approximately 10%) have required liver transplantation.
Adenovirus has been detected in at least 74 cases, and of the number of cases with information on molecular testing, 18 have been identified as F type 41. SARS-CoV-2 was identified in 20 cases of those that were tested. Furthermore, 19 were detected with a SARS-CoV-2 and adenovirus co-infection.

Factors such as increased susceptibility amongst young children following a lower level of circulation of adenovirus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential emergence of a novel adenovirus, as well as SARS-CoV-2 co-infection, need to be further investigated. It is also not clear whether the unknown hepatitis is caused by another biolaboratory leak.

WHO and ECDC are supporting countries with the ongoing investigations and collecting information from the countries reporting cases.

Risks posed by biolaboratory leak

A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that from 2006 through 2013, labs notified federal regulators of about 1,500 incidents with select agent pathogens.

Richard Din, a 25-year-old researcher, died in 2012 after unknowingly becoming infected by Neisseria meningitides at a lab inside San Francisco’s VA medical center.

Richard Din

In 2013, Washington gave Kazakhstan a KZ-29 grant to study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and in 2014 the republic experienced an outbreak of the disease.

In 2015, the CDC publicly announced its suspension of the Tulane National Primate Research Center — after the center’s accidental release of a bioterror bacterium became publicly known and was the subject of news reports.

Beyond accidental lab-associated outbreaks, federal auditors consider the deliberate theft and misuse of a deadly pathogen to be one of the most significant risks of biolab research. Documents obtained by the USA TODAY Network include at least 50 incidents since 2012 in which researchers were conducting experiments with genetically manipulated organisms without proper approval from internal safety committees.

That’s what the FBI says happened in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five and sickened 17. Bruce Ivins, a biologist and anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., was the perpetrator, the FBI concluded.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has also issued a number of grants to the EcoHealth Alliance to “understand the risk of bat-borne zoonotoc disease emergence in western Asia”. And in 2017, EcoHealth wrote a study on coronavirus in bats. The virus that causes Covid-19 is similar to a virus that has been found in horseshoe bats in Asia.

What is behind Ukraine biolabs

Former President of the United States Barack Obama had pushed an arrangement to develop bio-weapon labs processing “especially dangerous pathogens” in Ukraine, reports suggested.

In a stunning disclosure, Russia said that US President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and his investment fund Rosemont Seneca financed the Pentagon’s bio-weapon programme in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the US government spending records show the Department of Defense awarded an $18.4million contract to Metabiota between February 2014 and November 2016, with $307,091 earmarked for ‘Ukraine research projects’.

“According to the documents, the American side planned to conduct work on pathogens of birds, bats, and reptiles in Ukraine in 2022, with a further transition to studying the possibility of carrying African swine fever and anthrax”, chief spokesman for the ministry of Defence Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

The World Health Organization has confirmed to Reuters that there are ‘high-threat pathogens’ in Ukrainian biolabs. WHO advised Ukraine to destroy ‘high-threat pathogens’ in the country’s public health laboratories in order to prevent “any potential spills” that might infect the population during the Russian invasion, Reuters reports.

Biosecurity experts say Russia’s movement of troops into Ukraine and bombardment of its cities have raised the risk of an escape of disease-causing pathogens, should any of those facilities be damaged.