Mysterious spike in liver disease hepatitis in children spreads from UK to Europe and US

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A mysterious liver disease in children that was first identified in the UK has spread to Europe and the US.

Last week, the UK reported 74 cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, found in children since January.

Now cases of hepatitis have been identified in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement on Tuesday, while nine infections have been found in Alabama in children aged one to six, US officials said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said there were fewer than five possible cases in Ireland and three confirmed cases in Spain, in children aged 22 months to 13 years with the UN health agency warning it was “very likely” more cases will be detected.

Some of the children in the UK have required specialist care at liver units and a few have needed a liver transplant.

The cause of the illnesses is unclear; while mild hepatitis is common in children, the usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis have not been seen in these cases.

The liver plays a vital role in processing nutrients, filtering the blood and fighting infections. Hepatitis can be life-threatening if left untreated.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

  • dark urine

  • pale, grey-coloured poo

  • itchy skin

  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

  • muscle and joint pain

  • a high temperature

  • feeling and being sick

  • feeling unusually tired all the time

  • loss of appetite

  • tummy pain

Read more on the signs to look out for:

The WHO said genetic analysis of the virus was needed to determine if there were any connections between the cases.

Scientists believe the disease could be caused by an adenovirus, although the role those viruses play in triggering hepatitis is unclear. There are dozens of adenoviruses, many of them associated with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat and pink eye.

Other possible explanations are also being investigated, including whether or not Covid-19 could have played a role in the spate of cases.

But officials stressed that there is “no link” to Covid-19 jabs, as none of the children affected have received a Covid-19 vaccine.