Hepatitis cases in children ‘peak’ as doctors study genetic link to disease

Calum Semple, professor of child health and epidemic medicine at the University of Liverpool, said work was underway to sequence the genomes of affected children and their parents to see if they shared any genetic similarities.

“It could well be a very common infection with one or more viruses and the vast majority of us don’t even know we’ve had it and there could be a subtle genetic predisposition that means some children get a serious illness. .

He added: “There is no evidence that Sars-Cov-2 is associated with this disease, let alone a cause. There is a stronger association with adenovirus and related virus, which remain under investigation.

Around 20 children a year typically develop acute hepatitis, but the figures for 2022 are already eight times higher. The majority of cases occur in children under five, which is also unusual, with diagnoses generally spread across all age groups.

“The post-containment wave is over”

The rise has been accompanied by a rise in viruses as Britain emerges from social distancing and mask-wearing restrictions, but experts now believe the rise is over.

“It raises the possibility that what’s happening more is just more of what was happening before, if it’s circulating at much higher levels and causing more causes,” Professor Irving said.

Blood tests have shown that where the adenovirus is present is a specific variant known as adenovirus 41. Scientists are now studying the genome to find out if it has mutated from the usual sequence and are also taking samples livers that have been removed to see if the virus is present.

‘A little wait and see’

Experts said it now appeared cases had slowed, which could be due to lower levels of the virus in circulation as Britain heads into summer, when infections are traditionally lower.

Dr Tassos Grammatikopoulos, consultant in pediatric hepatology at King’s College Hospital, said: “We seem to be past the peak. Although we are still receiving identified cases in the UK, we appear to be on a downward trend. »

Deirdre Kelly, professor of pediatric hepatology at the University of Birmingham, added: “Things tend to get better in the summer in the heat. I think it’s a bit of a wait and see.

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