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Dogs could be causing outbreak of sudden onset hepatitis among children, scientists fear

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver

Investigators are continuing to try and find out why more than 160 children in the UK have suddenly contracted hepatitis.

An extra 18 cases were recorded as of 3 May according to an update from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Friday (6 May), bringing the UK total to 163.

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Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said earlier this week there were almost 300 probable cases of children with severe hepatitis detected in 20 countries worldwide.

Although a common virus called adenovirus may be one of the possible causes of the surge in cases following the pandemic, it is not common to see hepatitis following adenovirus infection in previously well children.

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver and can affect people of all ages.

In children, it is usually caused by a viral infection, but in adults it can also be the result of liver damage caused by drinking alcohol.

Investigations are therefore continuing into other factors which may be contributing, the UKHSA said.

These include previous Covid infection or a change in the adenovirus genome itself.

A review of questionnaires with families has also found “relatively high numbers of dog-owning families or other dog exposures”, with 64 out of 92 cases where data was available talking about dog exposure.

The UKHSA said “the significance of this finding is being explored,” but added that “pet dog ownership is common in the UK”.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Hepatitis symptoms include:

  • dark urine
  • pale, grey-coloured poo
  • 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

The UKHSA said the most common symptoms in children in the UK are jaundice and vomiting, and the vast majority of cases are in those aged under five.

Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA, 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.”

The symptoms of the disease may first look like symptoms of other health problems.

If you are concerned about your child, you should seek advice from your GP.

If you live in England, Scotland, or Wales you can call NHS 111 for advice.