Hepatitis cases confirmed in children in the West Midlands as health chiefs issue warning

The number of cases of the liver disease among children under the age of 10 has risen to 111, and eight children in the UK have received a liver transplant. Credit: Unsplash

Some cases of the liver disease hepatitis that is affecting young children have been detected in the West Midlands, health chiefs have confirmed.

It is not clear how many kids are affected, but specialists in the Midlands have issued new advice to parents about the signs to look out for.So far, a total of 111 young children, most under five, have been hit with the unusual form of hepatitis across the UK. In around one in nine cases, the child has needed a liver transplant.Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital's world class paediatric liver unit, one of the country's specialist locations for treatment and research into viral hepatitis, is at the forefront of the national response to the cases.

Prof Deirdre Kelly, consultant paediatric hepatologist in the liver unit and professor of paediatric hepatology at the University of Birmingham, gave a national briefing on the outbreak in which she said the cause of the cases was as yet unclear, but said children are generally recovering well.

Since the start of the year, 111 children have required hospital treatment for hepatitis Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Dr Mamoona Tahir, West Midlands Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, leading on blood-borne infections, for the UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England) said she was not able to provide a regional breakdown of where cases were occurring but there were 111 confirmed cases in children under 10.

All of them "have been diagnosed as having hepatitis, where the usual viruses that cause the infection (hepatitis A to E) have not been detected."She said: "The cases are predominantly in children under five years old, who showed initial symptoms of gastroenteritis – diarrhoea and nausea – followed by jaundice. So far, 10 of these children have received a liver transplant. Investigations are being undertaken into a small number of children over 10."She ruled out a link to the Covid-19 vaccine, saying none of the confirmed cases were in children who were known to have been vaccinated. "There is nothing to suggest any link to the Covid-19 vaccine," she said.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a broad term which describes an inflammation of the liver.

It is usually caused by a virus, though it can also occur due to liver damage from drinking alcohol, according to the NHS.

There a five types of hepatitis caused by viruses, known as A, B, C, D and E, but none of the cases in seen in children this time seem to have been caused by these.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis?

  • Dark urine

  • Pale grey-coloured stools

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Itchy skin

  • Yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)

  • Feeling and being sick

  • Stomach pains, loss of appetite

  • High temperature

  • Feeling unusually tired all the time

What could have caused these cases?

The cause of the new cases is unknown so far.

The cases have not been caused by the usual viruses that cause hepatitis A – E and data gathered has "increasingly" suggested that the rise in severe cases of hepatitis may be linked to a group of viruses called adenoviruses, the UK health security agency said.

The emergence of so many unusual cases in what are understood to be healthy young children has triggered a national incident.

Health officials are keen to ensure parents, teachers and health professionals are informed about the symptoms.Dr Tahir said: “It’s important for parents and guardians to be able to spot the signs of hepatitis, so they can contact a healthcare professional if they have concerns for their child’s health."

"Children experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection, including vomiting and diarrhoea, should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped," Dr Tahir adds.