The number of recorded cases of sudden onset hepatitis among children under ten has risen to 114, while the number needing a liver transplant has increased to ten, health chiefs have announced.
The World Health Organization reported one death of a child with hepatitis this weekend but did not say where it had occurred. However, noted Sky News, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has reported that there have been no deaths in the UK.
Nevertheless, said Aikaterini Mougkou, from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the emerging trends are “really worrying”.
Here is what we know.
What is it?
“Hepatitis is the catch-all term to describe inflammation of the liver tissue,” said the BBC.
It can be caused by either a viral infection, or by exposure to some chemicals, alcohol, drugs and some genetic disorders.
Short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, said the NHS, so you may not realise you, or your child, has it.
However, symptoms to watch out for include yellowing of the eyes and skin. Other signs include muscle and joint pain, a high temperature, nausea or vomiting, a loss of appetite, dark urine and pale, grey-coloured stools.
Treatment options will depend on the type of hepatitis the patient is suffering from and whether the infection is acute or chronic, said Healthline. Treatments can vary from antiviral medication to rest.
Health chiefs said children experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after the symptoms have cleared up.
Why is it on the rise?
The surge of hepatitis cases in young children has been linked to lockdown and social distancing, reported The Telegraph.
Dr Meera Chand, who is heading the UKHSA’s investigation into the dramatic rise in cases, said the virus may be hitting young children hardest because lockdown restrictions meant they were not exposed to it during their formative years.
There are fears that a common adenovirus could have mutated to become more severe, noted the paper. Officials noticed that the cases have not been caused by the usual viruses that cause hepatitis A to E and therefore the rise may be linked to a group of viruses called adenoviruses.
UK health officials have ruled out the Covid vaccine as a possible cause because none of the cases in children aged ten and under in Britain had been vaccinated.
However, there could be worse to come. Liver experts said that reported cases so far may be the “tip of the iceberg”, as some symptoms could be missed.