Hepatitis symptoms: A deadly outbreak is spreading among children, and now it’s now moving closer to Australia

A new case of the mystery outbreak of hepatitis has been detected in Asia for the first time, as the threat moves closer to Australia.

Japan’s health ministry reported a child 16 or younger had been hospitalized with acute hepatitis – severe inflammation of the liver – with an unknown origin.

Health officials in Canada also say they are investigating cases of severe liver disease, raising concerns the mystery strain is beginning to spread outside of the US and, more worryingly, across continents.

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“The Public Health Agency of Canada is aware of reports of severe acute hepatitis of unknown origin in young children in Canada,” the department told CBC News.

“These are being investigated further to determine if they are related to cases in the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Severe hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, is rare in otherwise healthy children.

But about 190 unexplained cases have been reported in children around the world – up from 169 on Monday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control says.

The outbreak was first reported this month in the United Kingdom – which has registered 111 cases, mostly in children under 10 – and has since been identified in at least 12 countries.

Forty cases have been recorded in the European Union and European Economic Area, ECDC director Andrea Ammon told reporters in a virtual briefing.

The WHO said that as of April 21 acute cases of hepatitis of unknown origin had been reported in the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Israel, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, France, Romania and Belgium.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued a nationwide health alert, saying its first cases were identified in October in Alabama.

The ECDC is investigating alongside various national health authorities and the World Health Organisation.

The cases reported were in children aged from one month to 16 years, and 17 had required liver transplantation, the WHO said.

It gave no details of the death that it said had been reported and did not say where it occurred.

According to the UK Health Security Agency, the cases are largely in kids under five, with a median age of three, and only “a small number of children over the age of ten are being investigated”.

Unusually, the new cases do not feature the viruses typically responsible for acute liver inflammation – hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.

Investigations so far point towards a link to infection with an adenovirus, a family of common viruses that can cause flu-like or gastrointestinal symptoms, says Ammon.

One child has died from the severe condition and 17 others have required a liver transplant. Picture file. Credit: photo peak/Getty Images

Research from the UKHSA supports this, with information increasingly suggesting the rise in cases may be linked to the adenovirus infection.

Ammon said one theory being considered was COVID-19 lockdowns may have weakened children’s immunity.

But scientists are also investigating whether the adenovirus involved has mutated, or is acting in tandem with another infection, possibly COVID-19.

A toxin could also be responsible but this is thought less likely due to the geographical spread of the cases reported.

Scientists have ruled out a link with the COVID-19 vaccine, as none of the confirmed cases in the UK had been vaccinated.

Hepatitis symptoms

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Yellowing of the white part of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey-coloured faeces
  • itchy skin
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Feeling unusually tired all the time
  • loss of appetite
  • tummy bread

– With AAP, CNN

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