Increase In Hepatitis (Liver Inflammation) Cases In Children Under Investigation - Update
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This week, the UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) published a detailed technical briefing on the investigations into a rise in cases of sudden onset hepatitis (liver inflammation) in children, with data and findings on cases resident in England, up to 20 April 2022.
UKHSA, 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.
Active case finding investigations have identified a further 3 confirmed cases since the last update on 21 April, bringing the total number of cases to 111. Of the confirmed cases, 81 are resident in England, 14 are in Scotland, 11 are in Wales and 5 are in Northern Ireland.
Of these cases, 10 children have received a liver transplant. No UK cases have died. A small number of children over the age of 10 are being investigated.
There is 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.
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. 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.
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."
The UK Health Security Agency are working with partners to further investigate the link between adenovirus and these cases.
Hepatitis symptoms include:
yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
pale, grey-coloured faeces (poo)
muscle and joint pain
a high temperature
feeling and being sick
feeling unusually tired all the time
loss of appetite