Sudden onset hepatitis – UKHSA cautions parents to ‘be alert to the signs’ – update

In tandem with Public Health England, Public Health Wales and the Public Health Agency, the UKHSA is monitoring the situation in the UK. Thus far, since January 2022, there has been 145 confirmed cases in children. In total, 108 are residents in England, 17 are in Scotland, 11 are in Wales, and nine are in Northern Ireland.

Of these cases, 10 children have received a liver transplant, but there have been no fatalities.

“The usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis (hepatitis A to E) have not been detected,” the UKHSA noted.

Findings currently suggest that sudden onset hepatitis is linked to an adenovirus infection.

However, other causes are still under investigation, as “it is not typical to see this pattern of symptoms from adenovirus”.

Research is ongoing into whether a Covid infection has a part to play, if there’s an environmental link, or if there has been a change in the genome of the adenovirus.

“We are also exploring whether increased susceptibility due to reduced exposure during the Covid pandemic could be playing a role,” the UKHSA added.

“UKHSA is working with scientists and clinicians across the country to answer these questions as quickly as possible.”

Dr Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA, said: “We know that this may be a concerning time for parents of young children.

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“The likelihood of your child developing hepatitis is extremely low.

“However, we continue to remind parents to be alert to the signs of hepatitis – particularly jaundice, which is easiest to spot as a yellow tinge in the whites of the eyes – and contact your doctor if you are concerned.”

Cases are predominately in children under the age of five, who first present with symptoms of gastroenteritis followed by the onset of jaundice.

Gastroenteritis leads to diarrhoea and nausea; any child experiencing these symptoms should “should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped”.

If vomiting and diarrhoea is followed by jaundice, where the skin and whites of the eyes take on a yellowish hue, contact your doctor immediately.

To help reduce the spread of infections, adults and children are encouraged to thoroughly wash their hands.

Experts at Stanford Children’s Health said symptoms of sudden (acute) hepatitis might also include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not feeling well
  • Stomach pain or discomfort
  • Joint pain
  • Sore muscles
  • Itchy red hives on the skin
  • Clay-coloured stools
  • Dark-coloured urine.

What are the complications of hepatitis? The main concern is that hepatitis can lead to liver failure, hence why a liver transplant would be needed.

Liver failure and transplant

The NHS explained a liver transplant is an operation to remove the liver and to replace it with a healthy one from a donor.

However, there is not an abundance of liver donors, so it’s likely that there will be a waiting period before the operation can go ahead.

It’s possible that a person could be waiting months for a liver transplant.

Moreover, once a liver transplant has been completed, it could take up to a year to fully recover.

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