The mysterious outbreak of hepatitis among young children may have been brought on by Covid lockdowns weakening their immunity, health chiefs have claimed.
As it was revealed that two more British children need liver transplants, UK health officials say the global outbreak in cases may be a result of pandemic measures which prevented children being exposed to common infections during their ‘formative’ years.
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So far, 114 cases of ‘acute hepatitis of unknown origin’ have been reported in the UK in the last four weeks, with ten youngsters undergoing critical liver transplant procedures.
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The Mail Online reports: The first cases were spotted in Scotland less than a month ago, prompting a warning from UK health officials who say they have detected as many cases in three months as they would expect to see in a year.
The majority of cases have been spotted in under-5s who were initially hit with diarrhoea and nausea before later getting jaundice — the yellowing of the skin/eyes. Other symptoms can include dark urine, grey-coloured faeces, itchy skin, muscle pain, a fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and stomach pains.
Investigations are ongoing but officials believe the illness may be triggered by an adenovirus, a viral infection which is usually to blame for the sniffles, and has been linked to three quarters of all cases.
Experts say lockdowns – which prompted concerns for children’s physical and mental health – may have weakened the immunity of children and left them more susceptible to the virus, or the offending pathogen may have mutated to pose a greater threat.
Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UK Health Security Agency, told the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon that younger children were getting infected by the virus as they had not been exposed to it ‘during the formative stages that they’ve gone through during the pandemic’.
The liver disease has been spotted in 12 different countries, including the US, Ireland and Spain, while one child has died so far.
UK officials have ruled out the Covid vaccine as a possible cause, with none of the ill British children vaccinated because of their young age. None of the 11 cases in the US were jabbed either.
Almost 170 cases have been spotted since the first cases were publicly recorded in Scotland at the end of March.
Hepatologists today told MailOnline they believe the official numbers may be just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ because many parents may brush off the warning signs.
Professor Simon Taylor-Robinson, a hepatologist from Imperial College London, told MailOnline: ‘I think there are more cases out there.
‘I’d imagine there are more cases than have been reported — but they are likely to be less severe.’
But he added there is no reason to panic because in ’99 per cent’ of cases the liver is able to regenerate and the chances of needing a transplant or dying because of the condition are low.