Hepatitis outbreak: What is hepatitis, what are the symptoms and is the spike in children's cases dangerous?

There has been an increase in cases of hepatitis in children across the UK, but how dangerous is it?

By Abi Whistance
Friday, 22nd April 2022, 10:50 am
Updated Friday, 22nd April 2022, 11:49 am

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is now investigating over 100 cases of hepatitis in children across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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This comes after an unusual rise in young children with liver inflammation was first noticed in Scotland in March.

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So far eight children have received a liver transplant as a result of the illness. Photo: Alamy/PA.

So far eight children have received a liver transplant as a result of the illness.

Here is everything you need to know about the outbreak, and what symptoms to look for.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the medical term used to describe inflammation of the liver.

It's usually the result of a viral infection or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol.

There are seven different types of hepatitis, all of which are outlined on the NHS website on the hepatitis page.

How many cases are there in the UK?

So far 108 cases of sudden-onset hepatitis are being investigated by UKHSA.

79 of these confirmed cases are in England, 14 are in Scotland and 15 are spread across Wales and Northern Ireland.

Most of the children hospitalised so far are between one and five years old.

What is causing the outbreak of hepatitis in children?

No cause has yet been confirmed but it is becoming increasingly likely that a virus called adenovirus is the cause.

Adenovirus usually causes colds, vomiting and diarrhoea in children.

Is hepatitis dangerous?

Some types of hepatitis can pass without any serious problems, while others can be long-lasting and cause scarring of the liver.

Some types of hepatitis can also result in loss of liver function and, in extreme cases, liver cancer.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Short-term hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so it can be difficult to identify.

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

The UKHSA has told parents and guardians to be on the lookout for the signs of hepatitis and to contact a GP if they are concerned.