Since January 2022, we have seen an increase in the number of acute (sudden onset) hepatitis cases in children 10 years of age or younger in the UK.
Hepatitis is a condition that affects the liver and can be caused by a viral infection. Viruses that usually cause hepatitis (hepatitis A to E) have not been found in recently infected children. Other possible causes of acute hepatitis, including some drugs and toxins, are being investigated, but no link has yet been found. The UK Health Security Agency is working with the NHS, a wide range of experts and public health colleagues across the UK to find the cause as soon as possible.
Symptoms of hepatitis include:
- Yellowing of whites of eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Pale, gray stools (pu)
- Muscle and joint pain
- A high temperature
- Feeling and getting sick
- Feeling unusually tired all the time
- Anorexia nervosa
- Abdominal pain
Watch our video below for more information on the symptoms.
What is the reason for the increase in cases?
Hepatitis B virus (Hepatitis AE) viruses, which are commonly found in children infected with the recent increase in acute hepatitis, are being looked at by other public health groups. One area being investigated is whether hepatitis cases are associated with an increase in infections caused by adenovirus, a common cause of childhood illness. In the last two years, the Kovid-19 epidemic has reduced the number of children infected and reduced the number of common infections among children.
Now that children are getting more involved we are seeing an increase in some infections including adenovirus. We are also investigating other possible causes such as other infections (including Covid-19) or something in the environment.
Some children with acute hepatitis have recently had a COVID-19 infection, but there is a high prevalence of COVID-19 infection at this age so it is not unexpected. There is no link between this hepatitis case and the COVID-19 vaccine. No cases have been reported in the UK under the age of 10.
What should I do if my child is sick with the symptoms of a viral illness?
Viral infections, including adenovirus, are common in children and cause a variety of mild illnesses, including colds, vomiting, and diarrhea. Adenovirus or other infections do not usually cause hepatitis, but it can be a very rare complication of some types of viral infections.
If your child has mild symptoms that may be due to a viral infection, such as a cold, vomiting or diarrhea, they are less likely to get hepatitis. Most babies will soon recover by resting and drinking plenty of fluids.
You do not need to contact the NHS unless your child is very ill (for example, has difficulty breathing or does not eat or drink) or if they have jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin). If your child’s condition continues to deteriorate or you become anxious, trust your instincts and contact your GP or the NHS at 111. Children who are sick should be kept at home and not sent to school or nursery.
Children who have experienced symptoms of gastrointestinal infections, including vomiting and diarrhea, should not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.
How can I prevent the spread of common childhood infections?
Childhood infections usually spread from person to person through close contact, coughing and sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces. The most effective way to reduce the spread of infection is to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene.
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and wash your hands regularly. Supervise young children to wash their hands thoroughly and make sure they cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Who is at risk of hepatitis?
In almost all cases children under 10 years of age were seen, in most cases between 3 and 5 years of age. Most of the infected children were previously healthy and very few cases have been linked to another case of hepatitis. This means that even if there is a case between your family or friends, or if there is a case at your child’s nursery or school, your child has a lower risk of getting hepatitis.
Can cases be linked to COVID-19 infection or vaccine?
Only a handful of recent COVID-19 infections have been reported, in line with current trends in the UK. However, we are investigating whether there may be a link to a previous COVID-19 infection.
There is no link between this hepatitis case and the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain viruses that can spread to humans. No COVID-19 vaccine was recorded for those under 5 years of age, the age group that accounted for more than 75% of hepatitis cases. Less than five elderly patients have been reported to have received the COVID-19 vaccine before the onset of hepatitis.
More information can be found on the NHS website.