Eight children given liver transplants as 108 mystery hepatitis cases detected in UK



Eight children in the UK have received a liver transplant after being diagnosed with a mysterious hepatitis, the UK Health Security Agency has announced.

Since January, 108 children across the country have developed sudden onset hepatitis – or liver inflammation. All were under the age of 10, though the majority were younger than five.

“This is just an extraordinary event,” Prof Will Irving, a specialist in virology at the University of Nottingham, told The Telegraph.

“I would not like to place a bet on what the cause will be – it’s really unusual. We have to hope it doesn’t take off in the way an epidemic does.”

The alarm was first raised in Glasgow in late March, after five young children were admitted to hospital with severe hepatitis. Usually, it is rare to see this many cases in a year.

These children – aged between three and five – had spent weeks vomiting, their skin was jaundiced yellow and they had “exceptionally high” levels of an enzyme called alanine aminotransferase in their systems, a sign of liver damage, according to a Eurosurveillance report.

In an update on Thursday, the UKHSA said experts have now recorded 79 cases in England, 14 in Scotland and 15 in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Children have also been diagnosed with the “hepatitis of unknown aetiology” in Israel, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States – where nine suspected cases have been recorded in Alabama, including two who required a liver transplant.

‘Usual suspects’ ruled out as cause

Scientists are still racing to understand the exact cause of the “extraordinary” rise in cases.

Currently, the leading theory is that the liver inflammation is linked to an adenovirus infection. So far, 77 per cent of cases tested were positive for adenovirus, the UKHSA said on Thursday,

“Information gathered through our investigations increasingly suggests that this is linked to adenovirus infection,” said Dr Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA. “However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes.”

Prof Irving explained that the other “the usual suspects” have all been excluded – including hepatitis A, B, C, E, plus cytomegalovirus (CNV), which causes cold sores and chickenpox, and Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever.

A side effect from coronavirus vaccines has also been ruled out, as none of the children affected in the UK have received a jab.

But health authorities said several other factors are still on the table. This includes whether another common virus – including Covid-19 – could be behind the rise, while there is some speculation that younger children are developing more serious symptoms as lockdowns have lowered their immunity.

Environmental factors could also be linked, scientists said, and investigators are quizzing parents about issues including their child’s diet and where they buy food.

Dr Chand urged parents to be alert to the signs of hepatitis, including jaundice.

“Normal hygiene measures such as thorough handwashing – including supervising children – and good thorough respiratory hygiene, help to reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenoviruses,” Dr Chand said.

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www.telegraph.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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