Doctors think Adenovirus could be behind surge in severe hepatitis cases among young children
Ten children in the UK have required a liver transplant following a recent surge in severe hepatitis cases among young children.
In the UK, 111 children have become ill with severe acute hepatitis, 11 have been in Wales.
There are no known cases in Wales under active investigation currently.
An increase of such cases has now been reported by several other countries – notably Ireland and the Netherlands.
Doctors have said investigations “increasingly suggest” the surge in severe hepatitis is linked to adenoviruses.
The UK first reported an unexpected significant increase in cases of severe acute hepatitis (liver inflammation) of unknown origin in young, generally previously healthy children.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is working with Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Public Health Agency, are continuing to investigate the cases in children aged 10 and under that have occurred since January 2022.
The usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis (hepatitis A to E) have not been detected.
The cases are predominantly in children under 5 years old who showed initial symptoms of gastroenteritis illness (diarrhoea and nausea) followed by the onset of jaundice.
Information gathered through the investigations increasingly suggests that the rise in severe cases of hepatitis may be linked to adenovirus infection but other causes are still being actively investigated.
Adenovirus was the most common pathogen detected in 40 of 53 (75%) confirmed cases tested.
The World Health Organisation. said that “factors such as increased susceptibility amongst young children following a lower level of circulation of adenovirus during the COVID-19 pandemic” could be a factor.
Sixteen per cent of cases were positive for SARS-CoV-2 at admission between January and April but there was a high background rate of COVID-19 during the investigation period, so this is not unexpected.
UKHSA says there no link to the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. None of the currently confirmed cases in under 10 year olds in the UK is known to have been vaccinated.
Routine NHS and laboratory data show that common viruses circulating in children are currently higher than in previous years and there is a marked increase of adenovirus, particular in the 1 to 4 age group.
Dr Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA, said:
“Information gathered through our investigations increasingly suggests that this rise in sudden onset hepatitis in children is linked to adenovirus infection.”
“However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes.”
“Parents and guardians should be alert to the signs of hepatitis (including jaundice) and to contact a healthcare professional if they are concerned.”
“Normal hygiene measures such as thorough handwashing (including supervising children) and good thorough respiratory hygiene, help to reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenovirus.”
“Children experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection including vomiting and diarrhoea should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped.”
“We are working with partners to further investigate the link between adenovirus and these cases.”
Dr Giri Shankar, Director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales, said:
“Hepatitis can cause jaundice and inflammation of the liver, so parents and carers should be aware of the symptoms of jaundice – including skin with a yellow tinge which is most easily seen in the whites of the eyes.
“We are reminding the public to familiarise themselves with this and other symptoms of hepatitis in light of these UK cases.
“Parents and carers are reminded that they should keep their children away from school and seek advice from a GP or an appropriate specialist if their child experiences any symptoms linked with hepatitis.”
Hepatitis symptoms include:
- yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- dark urine
- pale, grey-coloured faeces (poo)
- itchy skin
- muscle and joint pain
- a high temperature
- feeling and being sick
- feeling unusually tired all the time
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
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