Covid 19 is responsible for a hepatitis outbreak in UK children

Last week, hundreds of liver health experts gathered for the World Hepatitis Summit and one topic dominated the agenda: the mysterious outbreak of hepatitis in children that has gradually spread to 34 countries, including the UK. .

Speaking at the event, liver expert Dr Philippa Easterbrook said: ‘This is the first time we have seen so many severe cases in children. It is important to understand the cause and take these cases seriously.’

In its most extreme form, hepatitis can cause the liver to stop working. More than 240 cases have been reported in the UK so far, while 11 British children have needed transplants.

What could be behind this is an argument that divides the scientific world. But the latest development comes from intriguing research by Israeli scientists which suggests the answer may lie in Covid-19.

Last week, hundreds of liver health experts gathered for the World Hepatitis Summit and one topic dominated the agenda: the mysterious hepatitis epidemic in children that has gradually spread to 34 countries, including the UK.

Some experts have said there may be a link between the mystery epidemic and Covid 19

Some experts have said there may be a link between the mystery epidemic and Covid 19

Some experts have said there may be a link between the mystery epidemic and Covid 19

Doctors analyzed the medical history of five children who developed the condition, which is a dangerous inflammation of the liver.

They noticed a common factor: everyone had caught Covid in the previous year. Liver inflammation, they suggested, could be an extreme side effect of the immune system’s response to the virus.

Influential doctors took to Twitter to share the news of the results, coining the ‘long liver from Covid’ phenomenon. British epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani of Queen Mary University of London tweeted her confidence in the results, accusing some who dismissed them as “deniers of the harm Covid has done to children.” Yet numerous highly respected pediatric health experts and epidemiologists have angrily contested the claims.

Professor Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Southampton University Hospital, said the study provides “hardly any useful information” and no evidence that these hepatitis cases are linked to Covid.

While Dr Jake Dunning, an infectious disease expert at the University of Oxford, said scientists who mark the long liver with disease “really should know better.”

The prevailing theory is that a bad strain of a common childhood infection called adenovirus is to blame: three quarters of children admitted to British hospitals have tested positive for this variant.

Most babies will catch the infection at some point, but it usually causes only minor upper respiratory tract problems, leading to cough, runny nose, and, in rare cases, pneumonia.

But experts believe the lack of exposure to adenoviruses during the Covid blockade left children’s immune systems without natural protection to fight it, leading to a severe reaction. Even so, the new claims could rekindle concern among parents, so they might be right?

At least on the surface, Israeli research seems compelling. The report, published in the Journal Of Pediatric Gastroenterology And Nutrition, tells of five patients: two three-year-olds who needed liver transplants, two eight-year-olds and one thirteen-year-old who were hospitalized but fully recovered. All five were infected with Covid in the four months prior to being diagnosed with hepatitis.

The authors say their findings suggest that a Covid infection caused the immune system to malfunction and began attacking the liver. This is not unheard of with other viral infections, and in this case it is known as post-viral hepatitis, a recognized condition in children.

Dr Gurdasani, a staunch supporter of Covid’s long liver theory, says another piece of evidence is the fact that the UK and US have seen the most cases of hepatitis. Both had very high infection rates in children, unlike many other nations who have imposed strict Covid safety measures in schools.

“The UK has been an anomaly in the way we have tried to protect children from the virus,” says Dr Gurdasani. “We have not enforced the use of the mask in the same way as other countries and we have not done anything to ventilate the schools. It is possible that we are seeing the impact of those decisions.”

The study also questions the other probable cause: adenovirus was not detected in any of the five patients. And it’s not the only study of its kind to have reached this conclusion. In late April, Alabama doctors published research finding the absence of the virus in nine children with severe hepatitis who needed a transplant.

And many scientists have pointed out that adenovirus has never been linked to hepatitis – in fact, there is not a single case of adenovirus-triggering hepatitis in the medical literature. “The argument caused by an adenovirus is getting weaker and weaker,” says Dr. Gurdasani. ‘It does not cause hepatitis and numerous studies have failed to find it in the livers of these children. So where is the evidence?’

But experts say there are multiple problems with the Israeli study. The oldest: they are only five children.

Israel has recorded 12 cases of childhood hepatitis, so the study includes less than half of these patients.

“The researchers do not explain why these patients were selected, or why the other cases of hepatitis were not,” says prof. Munro. “We don’t know if they only chose those who had Covid, so that doesn’t say how likely it is that a child who develops Covid will develop hepatitis.”

Professor Munro further points out that because Covid has been so prevalent, it is not necessarily surprising that these children have had Covid infections. “Covid infection is so common and the time frame between these children getting the virus and then hepatitis is so varied, there is no clear evidence that one is causing the other. This is not to say that Covid ed hepatitis are not linked, but this study provides no concrete evidence that they are. ‘

University of Nottingham virologist Professor Will Irving agrees it’s too early to jump to conclusions. He says: “Five cases are not enough to prove anything, we have to look closely at how many of the several hundred cases in the UK have had Covid and go from there.”

To add to the confusion, US health officials last week said that while the country has seen more than 270 cases of unexplained hepatitis in children this year, that’s no more than it sees in a normal year. “There has always been an underlying level of these unexplained cases, even before Covid,” says Professor Irving.

The one thing all experts agree on is that finding the cause remains an urgent task as it will help doctors know which treatment to give. In the UK, children hospitalized with hepatitis are being treated for adenovirus, using the antiviral drug cidofovir. But other countries, such as Israel and Austria, are treating them with steroids, which can help regulate an immune system malfunction potentially affected by Covid.

Dr Gurdasani warns: “If the adenovirus theory is wrong, we have been giving patients the wrong treatment for months. UK health officials need to focus on the Covid theory if they want to protect children.”