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What you need to know about acute hepatitis of unknown cause in children

Blog post | 17 May 2022

Since October 2021, reports of children experiencing acute hepatitis with an unknown cause have been increasing around the world.

There haven’t been new cases of acute hepatitis of unknown cause in Australia, but there’s been a spike overseas. Different countries have identified at least 450 children with this illness. These countries include the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, America and Indonesia.

Each year in Australia some children experience unexplained hepatitis. So, although the increase overseas may seem scary, the condition is still rare here.

What is acute hepatitis of unknown cause?

Acute hepatitis of unknown cause is inflammation of the liver, which can lead to serious illness. This hepatitis has no links to hepatitis A, B, C, D or E.

It’s called ‘acute hepatitis of unknown cause’ because the symptoms appear suddenly, and the cause is not known. So far, this type of acute hepatitis has been reported in children under 16, with most cases occurring in children under 5.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an illness that inflames and damages your liver. It’s usually caused by an infection. Hepatitis can spread from person to person.

There are 5 known types of viral hepatitis — A, B, C, D and E. There are also non-infectious types of hepatitis, like autoimmune and alcoholic hepatitis. The symptoms of the 5 viral types can be similar. But the way they can spread from person to person is different.

What are the symptoms of acute hepatitis of unknown cause?

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite and jaundice. But so far most children haven’t had a fever.

Jaundice is when your skin and eyes turn yellow.

What causes acute hepatitis of unknown cause?

Research into the cause of this mystery hepatitis is ongoing.

Researchers have discovered many children with this illness have human adenovirus. Adenovirus can cause a wide range of illnesses and symptoms. They include conjunctivitis, pneumonia, acute gastro, fever and a sore throat.

While some children infected with this hepatitis have had COVID-19, it’s not yet clear if there’s a connection.

Studies have not found a link between hepatitis and the COVID-19 vaccine. A majority of the cases are children under 5 who are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Should I worry about acute hepatitis of unknown cause?

There hasn’t been an increase in acute hepatitis of unknown cause in Australia.

Australian public health authorities are monitoring the situation.

If your child has any acute hepatitis symptoms, take them to a doctor.

Make sure your child washes their hands and covers their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to help reduce the spread.

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