Strange hepatitis in children linked to lockdowns puzzles scientists

hepatitis, hepatitis b

Hepatitis is a liver inflammation usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage as a result of alcohol consumption.

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Hepatitis is a liver inflammation usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage as a result of alcohol consumption, according to the Nation Health Service .
  • Short term hepatitis has no visible symptoms. At advanced level symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, itchy skin, pale grey-coloured stool and dark urine.

Stringent Covid-19 containment measures that limited social interactions could partly be responsible for an ongoing surge in mysterious cases of hepatitis in children, scientists now say.

Researchers in Scotland say prolonged lockdown cycles worldwide may have played a significant role in weakening the immune system in children leaving them highly vulnerable to adenoviruses.

Hepatitis is a liver inflammation usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage as a result of alcohol consumption, according to the Nation Health Service (NHS).

Short term hepatitis has no visible symptoms. At advanced level symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, itchy skin, pale grey-coloured stool and dark urine.

Infected people tend to feel tired all the time, develop high temperatures, joint and muscle pains and feel tired all the time.

The team of researchers led by Public Health Epidemiologist Dr Kimberly Marsh, hold that the coronavirus pandemic restrictions caused children to become “immunologically naive” to the hepatitis virus.

“The main hypotheses revolve on adenovirus. It is either a new strain with a distinct syndrome clinically or an ordinary acute circulating variant which is affecting young children who are “immunologically naïve,” the experts explained.

“The second presumption could be the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions against social mixing,” read the study published in the Eurosurveillance Journal.

As scientists continue to scratch their heads trying to unravel the mystery of the latest spate of hepatitis in children, some have linked the condition to “unusual mutations” acquired by a virus.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), believes that adenoviruses could be a contributing factor.

Adenovirus are common viruses that normally cause mild colds, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Although it is a rare virus complication, health experts argue that it does not typically cause hepatitis.

According to medics, the fact that adenoviruses are found in those suffering from hepatitis does not necessarily mean the viruses are responsible for liver inflammation in youngsters noting that adenoviruses are so common in children.

It is usually transmitted between individuals through “respiratory route” or touching contaminated surfaces, as explained by UKHSA.

Regarding Covid-19 vaccines, the agency rubbished any links to hepatitis noting that none of the affected children were immunized.

While noting that investigations are still underway on Covid-19, other infections and environmental triggers as probable causes, UKHSA divulged that about 77 percent cases in Britain have tested positive for adenovirus.

However, an Expert in Infectious Diseases at London’s Imperial College, Professor Graham Cooke, refutes claims that coronavirus is responsible.

“Less severe cases of hepatitis are very common in children as a result of an array of viral infections. It is quite different from what we are seeing now,” states Professor Cooke.

“If Covid-19 was the cause of hepatitis, it would be a surprise not see it widespread considering the high prevalence of coronavirus in the country at the moment.”

The medic termed it as “speculative but possible” the theory that younger children are likely to suffer from more serious symptoms as a result of lower immunity linked to lockdowns.

“There will be a category of youngsters aged below two who are yet to be exposed to the same number of viruses which they could have otherwise been exposed to in normal circumstances,” he observed.

Some experts argue that cases of children suffering from severe hepatitis to an extent of needing liver transplant are “very rare, unusual and exceptional.”

The recent spate of bizarre hepatitis cases has raised the alarm among scientists and health practitioners who now suspect that “something unusual such as virus mutation or another cause could be happening.”

“We are partnering with NHS and public health experts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, to urgently investigate various possible factors which could be causing children to be hospitalised with hepatitis,” remarked UKHSA’s Clinical and Emerging Infections Director Dr Meera Chand.

“Data gathered increasingly links the condition to adenovirus infection. We are also investigating other probable causes.”

The World Health Organization has noted that the potential role of adenovirus in triggering hepatitis is still unclear despite surging adenovirus cases in the UK even as Covid-19 infections continue to rise.

Although some of the children have tested positive for Covid-19, WHO reiterates that genetic analysis of the virus is needed in order to ascertain if there are any links.

According to the Health Authority, laboratory tests are underway to establish if a toxin or chemical could be the cause while revealing that no other connections have been found between infected children in Britain and none of them had recently travelled outside the UK.

Less than five cases have been confirmed in Ireland and three in Spain, among children aged between 22 months to 13 years.

Eight youngsters in Britain have so far required liver transplant while at least 108 children aged below 10 have tested positive for the inflammatory liver ailment since January.

In attempts to allay rising apprehensions, the United Nations Health agency has assured that probability of more cases being detected before the outbreak cause is identified is “very unlikely” considering the recent rocketing cases and heightened surveillance.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.