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Could pet dogs be the cause of a mystery hepatitis outbreak in children?

Roughly 300 cases of a mystery hepatitis have been recorded in children around the world, with more than 20 countries now reporting cases and at least one death.

Initial indications were that the cases could be linked to the pandemic and the use of vaccines, however according to a recent report, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that a number of children that tested positive for the disease, all aged 10 or under, had come from families who own a dog, or have been exposed to a dog.

They added that: “the significance of this finding is being explored.”

Questionnaires, completed by the families of those affected, found that 70 per cent of the children owned or had been exposed to a pet dog.

Health officials have been quick to point out that this might just be coincidence, with around half of all homes in the UK owning a pet dog. However, with a lack of any clear cause, all possibilities are being investigated.

In the UK, more than 160 children have been identified with a sudden onset of hepatitis. At least 11 of these have needed a liver transplant, but no deaths have been recorded.

With the number of cases already having passed the yearly average, health agencies are struggling to understand what is causing the numbers to rise so quickly. They do believe the most probable cause is a common virus called adenovirus, with three quarters of the UK’s 163 hepatitis-stricken children have tested positive for the virus.

Covid infection or a change in the adenovirus genome itself are also being investigated, whilst academics haven’t ruled out the possibility that Covid-19 weakened the immunity of those infected, making them more susceptible to infections.

UKHSA have acknowledged that an ‘exceptionally large’ adenovirus wave could be why the condition is appearing more frequently than expected.

Parents have been asked to look out for the symptoms of hepatitis, which are:

  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey-coloured poo
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Feeling unusually tired all the time
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tummy pain

Adenoviruses are a relatively common group of viruses that cause a range of mild illnesses including colds, vomiting and diarrhoea. Most people recover without complications, however hepatitis is known to be a rare complication of the virus.

Easily transmitted, UKSA has said: “The most effective way to minimise the spread is to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene and supervise thorough hand-washing in younger children.

“Normal hygiene measures, such as thorough hand-washing – including supervising children – and good thorough respiratory hygiene, help to reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenovirus.

“Our investigations continue to suggest that there is an association with adenovirus, and our studies are now testing this association rigorously.”

With the likely cause of the hepatitis in children and through contact, the possibility that pet dogs be the cause of mystery hepatitis outbreak does exist. The suggestion is that it may be one of the reasons why the virus is being transmitted and, according to officials, but they don’t believe that it explains the severity of the cases.


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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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