Covid could be behind mysterious liver disease rising in children in the UK – symptoms

Hepatitis C: What is the virus and how can it be treated?

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Hepatitis – a term used to describe inflammation of the liver – are creeping up across the UK. The rise is being seen in children, sparking concerns among parents. Cases have been recorded in children aged between three to five years old, almost exclusively in March and April of this year.

Of the 13 cases in Scotland, some have already led to acute liver failure and transplants.

The rise has been most marked in England, where health officials have reported approximately 60 unexplained severe hepatitis cases in 2022, most of which were in children ages two to five.

Some of the cases have again led to organ failure or transplant.

UK-based officials are reportedly in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, who are also scrambling to understand what’s driving the phenomenon.

What’s driving it?

Laboratory testing has excluded hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses (and D where applicable) in these cases.

However, coronavirus has been detected in several cases, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).

This has prompted investigators to turn their attention to a possible new Covid variant.

The United Kingdom has recently observed an increase in adenovirus activity, which is co-circulating with coronavirus.

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However, the WHO notes, “the role of these viruses in the pathogenesis (mechanism by which disease develops) is not yet clear”.

According to the health body, “other infectious and non-infectious factors need to be fully investigated to properly assess and manage the risk”.

What should you be looking out for?

According to the NHS, short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it.

If symptoms do develop, they can include:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Feeling unusually tired all the time
  • A general sense of feeling unwell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tummy pain
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey-coloured poo
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).

“See your GP if you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis,” advises the health body.

It adds: “Long-term (chronic) hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly (liver failure) and may only be picked up during blood tests.”

In the later stages, the symptoms become more acute.

Symptoms of end-stage liver disease may include:

  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Persistent or recurring yellowing of your skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Intense itching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Swelling due to fluid buildup in your abdomen and legs
  • Problems with concentration and memory.

According to the Mayo Clinic, cirrhosis usually progresses to the point where the liver loses most or all of its function — liver failure.

Cirrhosis describes permanent scarring of the liver.

In addition, people with cirrhosis may develop:

  • Bleeding of the digestive (gastrointestinal) tract due to enlarged veins in the tube that connects the throat and stomach (oesophagus), a condition known as oesophageal varices
  • Brain and nervous system damage due to the buildup of toxins in the bloodstream (hepatic encephalopathy).

Mayo Clinic adds: “Cirrhosis also increases your risk of liver cancer.”

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