Symptoms Of Hepatitis To Look For As Doctors Investigate Possible Covid Link

There's been a spike in hepatitis cases among under 10s in the UK.
Rebecca Nelson via Getty Images

Parents in the UK are being told to look for signs of hepatitis in their kids as more than 70 children under 10 have been diagnosed with the illness in the UK.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is examining 49 cases in England, 13 in Scotland and 12 across both Wales and Northern Ireland, all of which have occurred since January.

Currently there are now unexplained cases of hepatitis in children in four European countries and the US, health officials say.

Cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, have also been found in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the detection of more cases will probably follow in upcoming days – 169 children across 12 countries have been diagnosed with the virus since last October, it said.

Hepatitis is a health condition that affects the liver and may occur for a number of reasons, including several viral infections common in children. However, researchers are investigating the cause behind the recent spike.

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) said that investigations into the cause of the infections are ongoing in all the European countries where cases have been found.

The UKHSA said that it is also investigating a “number” of possible causes behind the spike in cases.

One potential line of inquiry is whether or not a group of viruses called adenoviruses may be causing the illnesses.

Other possible explanations are also being investigated, including whether or not Covid-19 could have played a role in the spate of cases.

But officials stressed that there is “no link” to Covid-19 jabs as none of the children affected have received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UKHSA, urged parents to be alert to the signs of hepatitis amid the rise in cases.

She said in a statement: “We are working swiftly with the NHS and public health colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to investigate a wide range of possible factors which may be causing children to be admitted to hospital with liver inflammation known as hepatitis.”

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

  • Jaundice

  • Dark urine

  • Itchy skin

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Loss of appetite

  • High temperature

  • Nausea with or without vomiting

  • Fatigue

Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. There are other types of hepatitis – Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D and Hepatitis E. These all have slightly different causes and symptoms, details of which can be found on the NHS website.

Dr Chand told parents they should keep an eye on symptoms of jaundice, including “skin with a yellow tinge which is most easily seen in the whites of the eyes – and to contact a healthcare professional if they have concerns”.

Why are cases rising?

A child being diagnosed with hepatitis can happen for a number of reasons, including several viral infections common in children. However, in the cases under investigation doctors have yet to identify common viruses which typically cause the condition.

Health managers in Scotland have confessed that speed of the severity of cases and geographical spread made the outbreak “unusual”. Public Health Scotland (PHS) said there are currently no clear causes and no obvious connection between them.

Dr Nicholas Phin, PHS director of public health, added: “We are continuing to investigate these cases and will provide further updates as and when they are available.”

Doctors are investigating whether Covid-19 or group of viruses called adenoviruses may be causing the illnesses.

The UKHSA said that adenoviruses are a family of common viruses that usually cause a range of mild illnesses – including colds, vomiting and diarrhoea – and most people recover without complications.

While they do not typically cause hepatitis, it is a known rare complication of the virus.

Adenoviruses are commonly passed from person to person and by touching contaminated surfaces, as well as through the “respiratory route”, the UKHSA said.

It added that the most effective way to minimise the spread of is to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene and supervise thorough hand-washing in younger children.

Dr Chand suggested that lockdown restrictions may be the reason why children are catching the virus as they weren’t exposed to it in their earlier years.

This highlighted “a susceptibility factor – so lack of prior exposure of that particular age group during the formative stages that they’ve gone through during the pandemic,” she says

UK experts have said that the Covid vaccine is not a potential cause as none of those under 10 with hepatitis here had been jabbed.

How is hepatitis treated in children?

Your child’s treatment may include:

  • Medicines. These can control itching, treat the virus, or control an autoimmune disease

  • Supportive care which may include eating a healthy diet and getting enough rest

  • Blood testing to see if the illness is progressing.