Health and Healthcare Systems

Hepatitis in children explained — why does it happen and what could it mean?

It is important to note that the hepatitis virus, shown here, is not the same as the clinical condition of hepatitis — inflammation of the liver.

It is important to note that the hepatitis virus, shown here, is not the same as the clinical condition of hepatitis — inflammation of the liver. Image: Dr. Erskine Palmer, USCDCP/Pixnio

Matthew Oliver
Consultant, World Economic Forum
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how COVID-19 is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

COVID-19

Listen to the article

  • There are two distinct types of hepatitis: viral hepatitis — hepatitis A, B, C, and D — and liver inflammation hepatitis.
  • The cause of a mysterious outbreak of liver inflammation hepatitis among over 1,000 children in 35 different countries this year has been identified, and it could spell bad news.
  • This year’s spate of hepatitis cases could be a one-off. But they could also be the first and most high-profile case of secondary health consequences for children as a result of COVID-19.

Hepatitis has been in the news recently. But what is hepatitis, and what could it mean that children have been getting sick with it?

Since April 2022, over 1,000 children in 35 countries have developed acute severe hepatitis of previously unknown origin. In late July, a possible explanation emerged of the cause of that mysterious spate of cases. And on 28 July, observed as World Hepatitis Day, commemorating the birthday of Dr Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the Hepatitis B virus. Though they share a common name, the two events have little in common.

Hepatitis is both the name of a clinical condition – inflammation of the liver – and a collection of viruses that cause liver damage, named Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

World Hepatitis Day is intended to raise awareness of the viruses, while the children were developing liver inflammation as a result of a mechanism that was, until last week, relatively unknown.

Have you read?

How hepatitis hit children

It has emerged that the hepatitis cases in children were caused by a combination of three factors:

1) They all had adenovirus, which is a fairly standard cause of the common cold;

2) They had a sub-strain of adenovirus which only replicates in the presence of a major strain of adenovirus;

3) They appear to have shared a common genetic trait.

These factors combined resulted in serious liver inflammation, with several needing transplants. Fortunately, it seems that this combination is relatively rare, meaning the likelihood of a significant number of child hepatitis cases is low.

More concerningly, however, is the possibility that these illnesses came about as a result of the children’s immune systems that, due to COVID-19, social distancing and school and nursery closures weren’t likely trained to deal with the relatively common adenoviruses.

Our bodies adapt quickly, but mild illnesses in childhood are essential for building strong immune systems that can handle the majority of pathogens thrown at us by the modern world. At present, there is no way of knowing what the long-term consequences will be for a generation of children whose immune systems are comparatively underdeveloped at a young age.

This year’s spate of hepatitis cases could be a one-off. But they could also be the first and most high-profile case of secondary health consequences for children as a result of COVID-19.

Symptoms of liver inflammation

It’s important to know the symptoms of liver inflammation hepatitis.

Symptoms are:

  • 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 faeces
  • itchy skin
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Bird flu spread a ‘great concern’, plus other top health stories

Shyam Bishen

April 24, 2024

2:12

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum