Hepatitis outbreak strikes young European children, UK hit hardest

Scientists are still uncertain what is behind the outbreak

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: John Cody
Severe hepatitis of unknown origin has been recorded in children in a dozen countries around Europe. (Rost-9D/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Europe is facing an influx of acute hepatitis cases — or liver inflammation — in young children, with the United Kingdom the most severely effected country. Several of the children even had to undergo a liver transplant, and with scientists unsure what is causing the severe cases of hepatitis, there are worries more cases could be on the horizon.

Currently, Western European countries are most affected, with 55 cases in European Union nations, according to the World Health Organization. However, the United Kingdom reported the most cases, 145 since January, with ten children already undergoing a liver transplant due to severe jaundice. Of the 145 cases, 38 are still in the hospital. The hepatitis outbreak comes at the same time as the increase in tuberculosis cases in countries like the Czech Republic.

While scientists have floated a number of theories why the children are experiencing such severe cases of hepatitis, one theory is that an adenovirus — the same groups of viruses that can cause colds, fevers, pneumonia, diarrhea, or conjunctivitis — is responsible. They are usually not responsible for hepatitis, but they can be an exceptional complication in some infections.

The researchers claim that due to Covid-19 lockdowns, children were not exposed to the viruses on a regular basis, which could have impacted their immune system. Later exposure to the family of viruses, which routinely infect children, also means the children may have had a more severe immune system response, which may have led to increased liver inflammation.

Doubts remain

There are some doubts about the adenovirus theory as well. Many of the children with hepatitis in the U.K. tested positive for an adenovirus, yet, researchers also say that this is not necessarily evidence that an adenovirus is responsible, as children often test positive for such viruses. In addition, the pattern doctors are seeing is not typical of illness from adenoviruses, which means they are researching other factors they may be overlooking, including Covid-19, other infections, or even an environmental cause.

Some on the web have urged doctors to explore the possibility of Covid-19 vaccinations, however, most of the children who have been hit with these hepatitis cases are 5 and under. While 5 million children in the 5 to 11 age range have been vaccinated in the U.K., children under 5, who are the vast majority of victims of hepatitis, have been approved to receive a Covid-19 jab yet, and according to the BBC, none of the affected children have received one.

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