An increase in cases of hepatitis in children

Image of a child walking with their shoes and feet on display

Since January 2022 we have seen an increase in the number of cases of acute (sudden onset) hepatitis in the UK in children aged 10 years and under.

Hepatitis is a condition that affects the liver and can be caused by a viral infection. The viruses that commonly cause hepatitis (hepatitis A to E viruses) have not been found in recently affected children. Other possible causes of acute hepatitis, including certain drugs and toxins, are also being studied, but no link has been found so far. UK Health Security is working with the NHS, a range of experts and with public health colleagues across the UK to find the cause as soon as possible.

Symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • pale gray stools (poo)
  • itchy skin
  • muscle and joint pain
  • high temperature
  • feel sick
  • feeling unusually tired all the time
  • loss of appetite
  • stomachache

Watch our video below for more information on symptoms.

What is causing the increase in cases?

The viruses that commonly cause hepatitis (hepatitis AE virus) have not been found in children affected by the recent increase in acute hepatitis, so public health teams are looking into it. all other possible causes. One area being explored is whether cases of hepatitis are linked to an increase in infections caused by adenovirus, a common cause of illness in children. Over the past two years, children have been less mixed up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, the number of common childhood infections has decreased.

Now that children are mixing more, we are seeing an increase in certain infections, including adenovirus. We are also investigating other possible causes such as another infection (including COVID-19) or something in the environment.

Some children with acute hepatitis have recently been infected with COVID-19, but there has been a high number of COVID-19 cases in this age group so this is not surprising. There is no link between these cases of hepatitis and the COVID-19 vaccine. No cases under the age of 10 are currently in the UK known to have been vaccinated.

What should I do if my child is unwell with symptoms of a viral illness?

Viral infections, including adenovirus, are common in children and cause a range 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 certain types of viral infections.

If your child develops mild symptoms that could normally be due to a viral infection, such as cold symptoms, vomiting or diarrhea, the chances of them developing hepatitis are extremely low. Most children will recover soon after resting and drinking plenty of fluids.

You do not need to contact the NHS unless your child is very unwell (for example, has trouble breathing or cannot eat) or if he or she has jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin). If your child is getting worse quickly or you are worried, trust your instincts and contact your GP or call the NHS on 111. Children who are unwell should be kept at home and not sent to school or daycare.

Children who have experienced symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection including vomiting and diarrhea should not return to school or daycare until 48 hours after the symptoms have ceased.

How can common childhood infections be prevented?

Infection in children is often spread from person to person through close contact, coughing and sneezing, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The most effective way to reduce the spread of infections is to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene.

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and wash your hands often. Monitor thorough hand washing in younger children and make sure they cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Who is at risk for hepatitis?

Most cases are seen in children under 10 years of age, with most cases between 3 and 5 years of age. Most of the children affected were previously healthy, and only a very small number of cases were associated with another case of hepatitis. This means that even if there has been a case in your family or friends, or if a case has occurred in your child’s daycare or school, your child is still at risk. low-grade hepatitis.

Could these cases be related to COVID-19 infection or vaccines?

Only a few cases have been confirmed with COVID-19 recently, which is in line with what we would expect given current trends in the UK. However, we are investigating whether there may be a link to prior COVID-19 infection.

There is no link between these cases of hepatitis and the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain viruses that can grow in the human body. No cases of COVID-19 vaccination have been recorded in cases under the age of 5, the age group that accounts for more than 75% of hepatitis cases. There are fewer than five documented cases of older patients receiving the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the onset of hepatitis.

More information about can be found on NHS website.


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