Some cases of the worrying strain of hepatitis that is affecting young children have been detected in the West Midlands, health chiefs have confirmed. It is not clear how many kids are affected, but regional specialists have issued new advice to parents about the signs to look out for.
So far a total of 111 young children, most under five, have been struck down with the unusual form of hepatitis across the UK. In around one in nine cases, the child has needed a liver transplant.
Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s world class pediatric liver unit, one of the country’s specialist locations for treatment and research into viral hepatitis, is at the forefront of the national response to the cases. Prof Deirdre Kelly, consultant paediatric hepatologist in the liver unit and professor of paediatric hepatology at the University of Birmingham, gave a national briefing on the outbreak in which she said the cause of the cases was as yet unclear, but said children were generally recovering well .
Read more: Hepatitis symptoms to look out for as high cases recorded in UK children
This afternoon Dr Mamoona Tahir, West Midlands Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, leading on blood-borne infections, for the UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England) said she was not able to provide a regional breakdown of where cases were occurring but there were 111 confirmed cases in children under 10. All of them “have been diagnosed as having hepatitis, where the usual viruses that cause the infection (hepatitis A to E) have not been detected.”
She said: “The cases are predominantly in children under five years old, who showed initial symptoms of gastroenteritis – diarrhoea and nausea – followed by jaundice. So far, 10 of these children have received a liver transplant. Investigations are being undertaken into a small number of children over 10.”
She ruled out a link to the Covid-19 vaccine, saying none of the confirmed cases were in children who were known to have been vaccinated. “There is nothing to suggest any link to the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.
The emergence of so many unusual cases in what are understood to be healthy young children has triggered a national incident. As a result the only information available is being issued by the UK Health Security Agency, formerly Public Health England. Health officials are keen to ensure parents, teachers and health professionals are informed about the symptoms.
Said Dr Tahir: “It’s important for parents and guardians to be able to spot the signs of hepatitis, so they can contact a healthcare professional if they have concerns for their child’s health.” Symptoms include:
- dark urine
- pale grey-coloured stools
- muscle and joint pain
- itchy skin
- yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- feeling and being sick
- stomach pains, loss of appetite
- at high temperature
- feeling unusually tired all the time.
“Children experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection, including vomiting and diarrhoea, should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped,” said Dr Tahir.
“Thorough handwashing is important to prevent spread of infection, and it’s important to supervise young children to make sure they wash hands properly, especially before eating and after going to the toilet.”
A spokesperson for the UKHSA in the West Midlands said they were not able to give a detailed breakdown of cases but confirmed there were cases in the region.
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