Hepatitis outbreak in children 'could be down to years of Covid lockdowns'

26 April 2022, 06:49 | Updated: 26 April 2022, 07:22

Rising hepatitis cases have been linked to lockdown by one expert
Rising hepatitis cases have been linked to lockdown by one expert. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Young people could be more at risk of hepatitis infection due to Covid lockdowns, an expert has claimed after a rise in cases.

The number of investigated cases among children under 10 rose to 111 up by April 20.

No deaths have been reported over the condition, the UK Health Security Agency [UKHSA] said.

Professor Simon Taylor-Robinson, a hepatologist from Imperial College London, warned that as children mix following restrictions that limited interactions during the last two years their weaker immune systems could put them at greater risk of being infected by hepatitis.

"I think it is likely that children mixing in kindergartens and schools have lower immunity to seasonal adenoviruses than in previous years because of restrictions," he told MailOnline.

"This means they could be more at risk of developing hepatitis because their immune response is weaker to the virus."

He added that he believes there are more cases to be discovered but those are likely to be less severe.

The NHS recommends seeing a GP if your child shows signs of hepatitis, which can include jaundice – a yellowing of their eyes and skin.

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The health service keeps a list of symptoms and prevention advice online.

Of the confirmed cases, 81 children are in England, 14 are in Scotland, 11 are in Wales and five are in Northern Ireland.

Most cases of liver inflammation were in children under five, while children aged over 11 were also being examined.

A total of 10 children needed a liver transplant.

The UKHSA said the usual viruses that cause hepatitis A – E were not behind these cases.

Instead, data suggests the rise in severe cases could be linked to adenoviruses. Experts found that of 53 cases, 40 showed adenovirus was the most common pathogen detected.

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.

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"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 hand washing, 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."