Possible link between mysterious rise in childhood hepatitis and adenovirus in dogs under study

Scientists are reportedly exploring a possible link between a mysterious rise in hepatitis cases in children and an adenovirus in dogs.

It comes after it was discovered that a “relatively high number” of children with liver disease came from families with pets or had been exposed to them.

On Friday May 6, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said cases of hepatitis had risen from 18 to 163 in a week, with 11 children requiring liver transplants due to severe organ damage.

With cases of the virus typically being very rare, scientists are exploring possible links to dogs, according to a new report. However, experts noted that owning a dog is “common in the UK” and that there was “limited data on baseline rates of pet ownership in families with young children”, reports The Telegraph.

And Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London Genetics Institute, said he could think of “no sensible explanation” for a potential link between exposure to dogs and hepatitis in young people.

“Dogs carry their own adenoviruses, including CAV-1, a dog liver pathogen, but there is no prior evidence that CAV-1 can infect humans,” he told the Telegraph.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that around 300 cases of the disease have now been reported in at least 20 countries. Three deaths have been reported in Indonesia this week, bringing the total death toll to four, although most cases of the disease have been reported in Europe. The working theory is that the outbreak is linked to an adenovirus, after 72% of children who were screened for the pathogen tested positive.

The UKHSA also suspects that Covid-19 lockdowns may be a contributing factor – weakening children’s immunity through a lack of exposure to common pathogens and making them more susceptible to the disease. Experts are also exploring the theory that the virus combined with another infection, such as Sars-Cov-2.

The scientists also noted that 14% of affected children across the UK had recently tested positive for Covid, and were careful not to rule out a link between the hepatitis cases and the recent Covid-19 infection.

Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA Dr Meera Chand urged parents to look for symptoms of hepatitis, including jaundice, vomiting and pale stools. “It’s important for parents to know that the chance of their child developing hepatitis is extremely low,” she said. “However, we continue to remind everyone to be alert for signs of hepatitis – especially jaundice, look for a yellow tint in the whites of the eyes – and contact your doctor if you are concerned.

Other symptoms of hepatitis include muscle and joint pain, high temperature, feeling unusually tired all the time, feeling generally unwell and loss of appetite, according to the NHS. Abdominal pain, dark urine, and itchy skin may also occur.

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis can lead to liver failure.

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