Another 20 British children are attacked with a mysterious hepatitis
A further 20 British children have fallen ill with hepatitis of unknown origin as the mysterious outbreak continues.
Health officials announced the new cases today, bringing the UK’s cumulative total to 222 since the first dates back to January.
Of the confirmed patients, 158 were in England, 31 in Scotland, 17 in Wales and 16 in Northern Ireland.
They predominate in children under the age of five, but a small number of children over the age of 10 have also been downed.
Experts are still stumped as to what is causing the life-threatening liver disease, with weakened immunity to the common cold during lockdowns remaining the main culprit.
The complication has been detected in hundreds of other patients in Europe, the US, South America, the Middle East and Asia.
Globally, at least 12 children have died and dozens have needed liver transplants. No child has died in the UK.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was still investigating to find out what was behind the mysterious outbreak, with the usual hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses excluded from the laboratory test results.
Scientists are still puzzled about what is causing the disease, which has been detected in the US, Western Europe and a handful of other countries. Globally, at least 12 children have died and dozens have needed liver transplants.
The leading theory is that the spate of hepatitis cases is being caused by a group of viruses that normally cause the common cold, known as adenoviruses.
Scientists are investigating whether a mutated strain of adenovirus has evolved to become more severe, or whether a lack of social interaction during the pandemic weakened children’s immunity.
They have also not been able to rule out that it is an old Covid infection.
UKHSA officials said there is no evidence linking the outbreak to the Covid vaccine, as most cases have been in children under the age of five, who have not been vaccinated.
New cases appear to be slowing, with the 20 recorded in the nine days to May 25 down 41 percent from the 34 recorded in the six days to May 16.
Dr. Tassos Grammatikopoulos, a consultant at King’s College Hospital in London who has treated some of the sick children, said last week that the UK “appears to be past the peak” of the outbreak.
Dr Renu Bindra, UKHSA Senior Medical Adviser, said: “Our investigations continue to suggest an association with adenovirus, and we are exploring this link, along with other possible contributing factors, including previous infections such as Covid.
“We are working with other countries that are also seeing new cases to share information and learn more about these infections.”
She added: ‘The chance of children developing hepatitis remains extremely low.
‘Maintaining normal hygiene measures, including making sure children regularly wash their hands properly, helps reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenovirus.
“We continue to remind everyone to watch for signs of hepatitis, particularly jaundice, look for a yellow tint to the whites of the eyes, and contact your doctor if you are concerned.”
The symptoms of the complication usually begin with diarrhea or illness. It can then cause the skin and eyes to turn yellow.
The United States has recorded 216 cases in 37 states, with Mississippi and Utah the latest to be added to the growing list.
No new deaths or liver transplants were reported in the last seven days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed in its weekly update with the totals remaining at 14 and six respectively.
The agency has not disclosed where the deaths occurred due to “confidentiality issues,” but at least one was recorded in Wisconsin, state health chiefs say.
Globally, the UK has now recorded the most deaths and suspected cases of any nation, although this may be due to stronger surveillance than other nations.
Leading experts fear health chiefs don’t understand what’s behind the peculiar pattern, which has sickened at least 520 children worldwide since March, for months.
While mild liver inflammation is not uncommon in children, the severe disease seen in these cases is.
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba, Canada, said experts continue to investigate the outbreak around the world.
He said The Guardian: ‘The field of play changes hour by hour. Inch by inch, we are beginning to discover what this problem is.
“But I don’t think we have all those puzzle pieces to say, ‘Okay, this is what we think is going on.'”
The United States and Indonesia have five deaths in the outbreak, while Palestine and Israel have each recorded one.
Q&A: What is the mysterious global hepatitis outbreak and what’s behind it?
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage from drinking alcohol.
Some cases resolve on their own, with no ongoing problems, but a fraction can be fatal, forcing patients to need liver transplants to survive.
What are the symptoms?
People who have hepatitis usually have fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, and joint pain.
They may also suffer from jaundice, when the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow.
Why do the experts care?
Hepatitis is usually rare in children, but experts have already detected more cases in the current outbreak than would normally be expected in a year.
The cases are of “unknown origin” and are also serious, according to the World Health Organization.
What are the main theories?
Experts say the cases may be linked to the adenovirus, commonly associated with colds, but further investigation is underway.
This, in combination with covid infections, could be causing the rise in cases.
Around three-quarters of British cases have tested positive for the virus.
British experts tasked with investigating the onslaught of disease believe the endless cycle of lockdowns may have contributed.
The restrictions may have weakened children’s immunity due to reduced social mixing, leaving them at higher risk of contracting adenoviruses.
This means that even ‘normal’ adenovirus could be causing serious outcomes, because children are not responding as they did in the past.
Other scientists said it may have been the adenovirus that acquired “unusual mutations.”
This would mean that it could be more transmissible or more able to circumvent the natural immunity of children.
New Covid variant
UKHSA officials included ‘a new SARS-CoV-2 variant’ in their working hypotheses.
Covid has caused liver inflammation in very rare cases during the pandemic, although these have been in all ages rather than in isolated children.
The CDC has noted that environmental triggers are still being investigated as possible causes of the illnesses.
These could include contamination or exposure to particular drugs or toxins.