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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C

HPSC investigating child hepatitis cases with unknown causes

Since October two of the 28 probable hepatitis cases have resulted in liver transplants and one child has died.

THE HEALTH PROTECTION Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has identified 28 probable cases of children with hepatitis of unknown causes from October 2021 until 17 August of this year.

This is more than would usually be expected over this period of time and a small number of children are under investigation although the current data is provisional.

All probable cases are in children between the ages of 0 and 12 years of age and 27 of the 28 cases were hospitalised.

Two children have received a liver transplant and there has been one death associated with this disease.

To date no single virus has been identified in all cases.

Investigations are currently ongoing to identify the cause of these illnesses.

The HPSC noted that a similar increase in hepatitis of unknown cause in children has been reported in the UK, although none of these cases have been linked to Ireland.

In the UK, most of the 268 children affected by sudden-onset hepatitis have been aged under five.

In two independent research papers, published led by the University of Glasgow and Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), scientists concluded that the rise may be connected to the common adeno-associated virus 2, or AAV2.

AAV2 is not known to normally cause disease on its own and often accompanies infection with adenoviruses. These can cause cold or flu-like illness.

Experts said they could not completely exclude the chance that affected children had somehow developed increased susceptibility to getting sick, but they said this was extremely unlikely to be caused by Covid-19, as was initially believed.

None of the Irish cases who were tested on admission to hospital had evidence of Covid-19 infection at that time. The majority of the cases had not received Covid-19 vaccination.

Researchers found that AAV2, which cannot replicate without a “helper” virus such as an adenovirus, was present in all nine cases in the Glasgow study and 94% (16 of 17) of cases in the GOSH study.

The 94% is significantly higher than the 16% normally found in the general population.

The HPSC has warned parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of hepatitis such as muscle and joint pain, a high temperature, feeling and being sick, dark urine or yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).

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