British experts believe they have identified the cause of a recent wave of mysterious childhood hepatitis that is affecting young children worldwide, according to the BBC.
Studies show that two common viruses have returned since the end of the pandemic lockdown and have caused rare but very serious cases of hepatitis.
More than 1,000 children, many under the age of five, are thought to be at 35 countries have been affected.
Some, including 12 in the UK, have required life-saving liver transplants.
Two teams of researchers from London and Glasgow say infants were exposed to the virus later than usual due to Covid restrictions. They missed early immunity to:
- an adenovirus that usually causes colds and upset stomachs.
- Adeno-associated virus number two, which usually does not cause disease and requires a co-infecting “helper” virus, such as adenovirus, to replicate.
< p>This may explain why some have developed unusual and disturbing liver complications.
Three-year-old Noah, who lives in Chelmsford, Essex, needed an urgent liver transplant after suffering from a dangerous illness with hepatitis.
< p>His mother, Rebecca Cameron-McIntosh, says the experience was terrible for her family.
“There was nothing wrong with him before,” she says. – And the fact that it suddenly happened so quickly is terrible. I think it took us by surprise. We just assumed it was one small problem that was easy to fix, but in reality it just kept growing like a snowball.”
Rebecca was originally on the waiting list to donate part of her liver, but ended up in intensive care after a serious reaction to her medications.
Noah was put on the transplant list, and a new organ was transplanted to him soon after .
His recovery is going well, but he'll have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of his life to keep his body from rejecting the new liver.
Rebecca says, “There's something heartbreaking about that, because you you follow the rules, you do what you have to do to protect vulnerable people, and then, in some horrible roundabout way, your own child becomes more vulnerable.”
Such cases are rare. Most children infected with these types of viruses recover quickly.
It is not clear why some then develop liver inflammation, but genetics may play a role.
Scientists have ruled out any connection with the coronavirus or vaccines against Covid.
One of the researchers, Professor Judith Breuer, an expert in virology at University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “During the lockdown, when children weren’t playing with each other, they didn’t transmit viruses to each other. They didn't develop immunity to the common infections they'd faced before.
“When the restrictions were lifted, the children began to mix, the viruses began to circulate freely – and suddenly, with this lack of prior immunity, they were exposed to a whole battery of new infections “, – she said.
Experts are hopeful that there will be fewer cases now, but they are still ready for new outbreaks.
Professor Emma Thomson, who led research at the University of Glasgow, said that more many questions remain unanswered. “Larger studies are urgently needed to explore the role of AAV2 in cases of hepatitis in children. We also need to learn more about the seasonal circulation of AAV2, a virus that is not routinely monitored – perhaps the peak of adenovirus infection coincided with the peak of AAV2 exposure, leading to unusual manifestations of hepatitis in susceptible young children,” – she said.