What is hepatitis and what are the symptoms as parents are warned to check children?

·3-min read
Hepatitis can persist for many years in children, and can eventually lead to complications (Shutterstock / Studio Romantic)
Hepatitis can persist for many years in children, and can eventually lead to complications (Shutterstock / Studio Romantic)

Parents in the UK are being warned to check their children for signs of hepatitis after more than 170 children have now been identified with sudden onset hepatitis in the UK bringing the total to 176.

Of them, 11 have needed a liver transplant.

An update from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed a further 13 cases recorded as of May 10 compared to May 6.

There are now 128 cases of the liver inflammation disease under investigation in England, with 13 in Wales, 26 in Scotland and nine cases being examined in Northern Ireland.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) has said the number of cases in such a short period of time, combined with the geographical spread and severity of illness, is “unusual” and requires further investigation.

Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Dr Meera Chand, said: “It’s important that parents know the likelihood of their child developing hepatitis is extremely low.

“However, we continue to remind everyone to be alert to the signs of hepatitis – particularly jaundice, look for a yellow tinge in the whites of the eyes – and contact your doctor if you are concerned.

“Our investigations continue to suggest that there is an association with adenovirus and our studies are now testing this association rigorously.”

For some people, hepatitis is a short-term illness.

Meanwhile for others, it can become a long-term and chronic infection that can lead to serious and even life-threatening health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Here is everything you need to know about hepatitis and its symptoms:

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a medical condition referring to the inflammation of the liver.

It may occur for a number of reasons, including several viral infections common in children.

There are three main types of hepatitis - A, B and C.

Hepatitis A is very contagious. It is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected.

It is usually caught through close personal contact with an infected person, or through the consumption of contaminated food and drink, and it is most common in countries where sanitation is poor.

It usually passes within a few months, although it can occasionally be severe and even life-threatening.

Vaccination against hepatitis A is not routinely offered in the UK because the risk of infection is low for most people and it is only recommended for people at high risk.

Hepatitis B is common worldwide.

It is spread in the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.

Risk for chronic infection is related to an individual’s age at infection, with about 90% of infants with hepatitis B going on to develop chronic infection.

The NHS said all babies should be vaccinated to protect them against hepatitis B because the infection can persist for many years in children and can eventually lead to complications such as scarring of the liver or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK. Usually it is spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person.

Getting tested for hepatitis C is important because treatments can cure most people in 8 to 12 weeks.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Dr Nicholas Phin, of PHS, said: “If you have a child who is showing signs of jaundice, where the skin has a yellow tinge and is most easily seen in the whites of the eyes, then parents should contact their GP or other health care professional.”

Other hepatitis symptoms include:

  • dark urine

  • pale, grey-coloured stool

  • itchy skin

  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

  • muscle and joint pain

  • a high temperature

  • feeling and being sick

  • feeling unusually tired all the time

  • loss of appetite

  • tummy pain

Parents are being warned to keep an eye out for any of these symptoms as the number of cases rise.

Cases have been diagnosed across the country in Lanarkshire, Tayside, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Fife.

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