Increase in hepatitis cases in children under investigation

Over the past eight weeks, a small number (less than five) of children with hepatitis of unknown cause have been identified in Ireland and a small number of possible cases are being investigated. This is more than would usually be expected over this period of time. The children affected have no links to the other children involved.  To date no single virus has been identified in the cases. Investigations are currently ongoing to identify the cause of these illnesses.

In the UK, health authorities have also reported an increase in hepatitis of unknown cause in children. Investigations are underway in the UK to determine the cause of the illness. Information gathered thus far from the UK investigations suggest that the recent cases of hepatitis may be linked to adenovirus infection, however this theory is still under investigation. The Irish cases have no links to the UK cases, and none had a recent travel history to the UK before onset of symptoms.

According to WHO as of 21 April 2022, at least 169 cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin in children have been reported from 11 countries in the WHO European Region and one country in the WHO Region of the Americas. Cases have been reported in the United Kingdom (114), Spain (13), Israel (12), the United States of America (9), Denmark (6), Ireland (<5), The Netherlands (4), Italy (4), Norway (2), France (2), Romania (1), and Belgium (1).

The common viruses that cause hepatitis (hepatitis viruses A, B, C, and E) have not been detected in any of the cases. Other possible causes of the hepatitis, including adenovirus infection, are currently being investigated.

GPs and paediatric consultants are aware of the recent increase in cases of hepatitis amongst children and will be alert to identify any further cases that may develop. 

Advice for parents on symptoms of hepatitis

Symptoms of hepatitis can include:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • a high temperature
  • feeling and being sick
  • feeling unusually tired all the time
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite
  • tummy pain
  • dark urine
  • pale, grey-coloured poo
  • itchy skin
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Parents are advised to go to their GP if their child develops symptoms of hepatitis. The GP will assess the child and refer on for further assessment as indicated.

If your child is unwell with respiratory or diarrheal or hepatitis symptoms keep your child at home and do not send to crèche/preschool/school until they are better.

Good respiratory and hand hygiene, including supervising hand washing in young children, can help to prevent adenovirus and other infections that can cause hepatitis.

Further information World Health Organization (23 April 2022). Disease Outbreak News; Multi-Country – Acute, severe hepatitis of unknown origin in children

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Update: Hepatitis of unknown origin in children

Last updated on: 28 / 04 / 2022