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Pet dogs being investigated as the cause of mystery hepatitis outbreak in children
6 May 2022, 17:59
Health chiefs are looking into the possibility that dogs are the cause of the global hepatitis outbreak affecting children.
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Pet dogs are being investigated as a potential cause of the hepatitis outbreak that's been affecting children around the world.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the "significance of this finding is being explored".
They said a "high" number of children that tested positive for the disease - all aged 10 or under - come from families who own a dog, or have been exposed to a dog.
Officials gave families of infected children questionnaires to help in identifying the cause of the illness. One of the responses found 70 per cent — 64 of 92 respondents — owned a dog or had been exposed to a dog.
But, health officials said the 'common' ownership of dogs might make the findings a coincidence. Around half of UK adults own a pet, figures suggest.
Nearly 300 cases have now been detected across the world in over 20 countries, World Health Organisation figures suggest. One death has been confirmed, while four are under investigation.
More than 160 children have now been identified with sudden onset hepatitis in the UK, of whom 11 have needed a liver transplant. No deaths have been reported in the UK.
Health agencies are not yet aware of what's causing the illness with numbers already higher than the yearly average.
Officials believe the most likely cause is a common virus called adenovirus that may be causing the surge following the pandemic, according to the UKHSA.
Three quarters of the UK's 163 hepatitis-stricken children have tested positive for adenoviruses, analysis shows.
Adenovirus is the most often detected virus in the samples that have been tested. But, other reasons like previous Covid infection or a change in the adenovirus genome itself are also being investigated.
Academics wouldn't rule out the idea coronavirus lockdowns may have weakened the immunity of children and left them more susceptible to the virus.
But the UKHSA also acknowledged that an 'exceptionally large' adenovirus wave could be why the condition is appearing more frequently than expected.
The symptoms for hepatitis are:
- Dark urine
- Pale, grey-coloured poo
- Itchy skin
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Muscle and joint pain
- A high temperature
- Feeling and being sick
- Feeling unusually tired all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Tummy pain
The UKHSA said that adenoviruses are a relatively common group of viruses that cause a range of mild illnesses - including colds, vomiting and diarrhoea.
They state that 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 surfaces contaminated with the virus, as well as through the "respiratory route".
"The agency added that the most effective way to minimise the spread is to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene and supervise thorough hand-washing in younger children.
Dr Chand added: "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.
"Our investigations continue to suggest that there is an association with adenovirus and our studies are now testing this association rigorously."