Health experts are investigating a potential link between dog ownership and a surge in hepatitis infection in the UK.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that the total number of confirmed cases of sudden onset hepatitis in children has now reached 163 across the UK.
This figure is a rise of 18 in the week between April 29 and May 3, the UKHSA said in an update on Friday.
It is said that 11 of the 163 children have received a liver transplant. There have been no deaths recorded from the condition, which is inflammation of the liver.
Public Health Scotland (PHS) said that 22 cases of hepatitis have been identified in children in Scotland since January.
The origins of this recent spike are being investigated – including previous Covid infection.
There is no evidence of any link to the Covid vaccine, as the majority of cases are under five years old – meaning that they are too young to have received the jab.
A questionnaire of families across the UK found ‘relatively high numbers of dog owning families or other dog exposures’, with 64 out of 92 cases where data was available talking about dog exposure.
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“The significance of this finding is being explored”, the UKHSA said but added that “pet dog ownership is common in the UK”.
PHS said that the most common symptoms experienced by children is jaundice and vomiting.
Other symptoms can include dark urine, pale gray colored poo, itchy skin, muscle and joint pains, tiredness, feeling sick, a high temperature, loss of appetite and stomach pain.
Parents have been urged to contact their GP or other healthcare professional if their child shows signs of jaundice, where there is a yellow tinge in the whites of the eyes of their skin.
One of the leading potential causes of the spike is adenovirus.
Adenoviruses are commonly passed from person to person and by touch contaminated surfaces, as well as through the respiratory system.
Responding to the slight increase in figures in Scotland, Dr Jim McMenamin, Head of Health protection (Infection Services) at PHS said: “While the number of children developing hepatitis in Scotland has increased slightly since our previous report, overall, only a very small number of children have been admitted to hospital. The current risk to children of severe hepatitis remains low.
“Our investigations increasingly suggest that there is a link to adenovirus infection. Common infections, like adenoviruses, can be prevented with good hand and respiratory hygiene, therefore, I would encourage parents and care-givers to supervise young children while they are washing their hands to ensure they do so properly.
“Public Health Scotland continues to work with NHS and public health colleagues across the UK to investigate other potential causes and we will issue further updates as the situation develops.”
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