By Laura Kemp • 04 May 2022 • 15:54
Health Matters: Hepatitis – what is going on?
First, let’s just be clear about what hepatitis is. To put it simply hepatitis just means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a very important organ because it filters and cleans our blood and also plays an important part in helping us fight various infections. When it is inflamed it doesn’t work very well. Usually, hepatitis is caused by a virus and there are different types, you may have heard of them; hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most common ones. However, apart from the viruses hepatitis can also be caused by heavy drinking. The good news is that we have good treatments available for the type of hepatitis caused by viruses.
So, what’s going on right now? Something quite strange, and alarming, is happening right now. In several countries, we are noticing outbreaks of hepatitis in children and the origin is currently a mystery. Cases have been reported in children aged from one month to 16 years. (WHO Disease Outbreak News 2022-E000081) After the UK, currently with 114 cases, Spain is next in line with 13 at the moment. Worldwide, 10 per cent of cases have needed a liver transplant and there has sadly been one death.
As you will expect, people are working around the clock to try and find out what is causing this. So far, a very common virus has been found in many of the cases. This common virus belongs to the adenovirus family and it is all around us. One theory that is gaining ground is that because people were locked down during the pandemic their natural exposure, and so immunity, to some commonly circulating viruses has caused a degree of susceptibility, but right now that theory still needs a lot of work.
What we do know is that the usual suspects, hepatitis A, B, and C are not the cause – neither is prolonged heavy drinking. So, this does give some cause to be rather concerned. At the moment it is important to stress that this outbreak only seems to be affecting children and young people.
So, if you are looking after young children and you notice one or more of these signs then seek professional help without delay. The things to look out for are diarrhoea, vomiting, yellowish tinge to either eye whites or the skin – or both, fever, and any signs of breathing problems. If you see any of these then take your child to hospital immediately and say you are concerned about possible hepatitis.
Some good things have come from the pandemic, we have learnt so much more about how viruses behave and, importantly, how we can defeat them with clever vaccines. Our whole approach to surveillance and monitoring has changed and evolved, and this outbreak might not previously have been detected in the way that it is today. One thing is certain, we managed together to beat Covid, and we will get to the bottom of this one very quickly.
Dr Marcus Stephan
My views are entirely personal and do not reflect the view or position of any organisation. You should always consult your own medical practitioner regarding any concerns that you may have. Never stop taking any prescribed medication without first checking with your doctor.
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Originally from UK, Laura is based in Axarquia and is a writer for the Euro Weekly News covering news and features.
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