UK investigates puzzling spike in liver disease in children

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LONDON (AP) — Scientists are investigating a puzzling spike in liver disease in children across the UK, including the cause and whether there are any links between young people affected.

The UK Health Safety Agency said this week that public health staff were looking into 74 cases of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, detected in children since January.

The usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis have not been found in cases, and scientists and doctors are considering other possible causes, including COVID-19, other viruses and environmental factors.

While some types of hepatitis are mild and do not require treatment, other forms of the disease can become chronic and fatal.


The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has said doctors in other countries should also report potential infections in case the outbreak is not confined to Britain. He said doctors should be on the lookout for children with jaundice and symptoms such as vomiting and stomach problems.

The European agency said most of the cases were in children between the ages of 2 and 5. She said some children had suffered acute liver failure and a “small number required liver transplantation”. He said there was no travel connection between the children involved.

British officials said none of the affected children had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and they ruled out any links to COVID-19 vaccines.

“One of the possible causes we are investigating is that it is linked to an adenovirus infection,” said Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UK Health Security Agency.

Adenoviruses are common viruses that cause problems like pink eye, sore throat, or diarrhea. They are often spread between people and by touching contaminated surfaces.

“The current crop of hepatitis cases in children under 10 is highly unusual,” Will Irving, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement.

Adults are much more likely to suffer serious illness from hepatitis, and children are generally not affected, he said.

The public health investigation will likely focus on studying patient samples and looking for potential toxins or viruses that could be responsible, Irving said.

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