Severe hepatitis in children
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Recent Australian media articles have reported cases of severe hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) of unknown origin in children.
Here’s what we know so far about these cases:
- As of 21 April 2022, there were 169 known cases across 11 countries with one death and 17 children requiring a liver transplant.
- The children were aged 1 month to 16 years.
- They presented with symptoms including diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal pain, followed by the onset of jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
The World Health Organization advises that further investigations are ongoing and affected countries have initiated enhanced surveillance activities.
What’s causing these hepatitis cases
It is not yet clear if there has been an increase in hepatitis cases or an increase in the number of cases being detected.
Adenovirus (similar to cold and flu viruses) is being considered as a possible cause however investigations are still ongoing.
There is no known link to the COVID-19 vaccine, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. It is not yet known if there is a link to having the COVID-19 virus.
What about Australia?
The Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) has advised that each year a small number of children in Australia present with unexplained hepatitis, some requiring a liver transplant. So far, there has not been an unusual spike in cases here, however, cases are being actively monitored.
The best protection against diseases is to practice good hygiene, including:
- thorough hand washing (including supervising children)
- covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- avoiding people who are sick.
Hepatitis symptoms to look out for
GESA’s advice is to be alert to the symptoms of acute hepatitis and contact a healthcare professional without delay if there are concerns about a child’s health.
Symptoms may include:
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- fever (above 38 degrees)
- yellow colouring of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- dark urine and pale-coloured faeces (poo).
Who to call
- 13HEALTH (13 432 584)
- Your General Practice
- For emergencies go to the emergency department of your local hospital or call an ambulance.
- World Health Organization (WHO) Disease Outbreak News. Multi-Country – Acute, severe hepatitis of unknown origin in children (23 April 2022)
- UK Health. Guidance: Increase in acute hepatitis cases of unknown aetiology in children (8 April 2022)
- Contact the Hepatitis Queensland Infoline on 1800 437 222