What is adenovirus – and how is it linked to hepatitis outbreak in kids

Several young children in the UK began falling ill from a mysterious rise in hepatitis cases causing acute liver inflammation this spring.

While most recovered from the mystery illness, many needed to be hospitalised, and 11 in England and one in Scotland required a liver transplant.

Despite gaining scientific attention, physicians were unable to find any evidence of the standard viruses that usually cause hepatitis among these children.

However, researchers have finally that there may be found a link between adenovirus, which commonly causes colds in childhood and the spike in hepatitis cases.

Here’s everything you need to know about adenovirus including symptoms and how it might be connected to hepatitis.

What is adenovirus?

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause a variety of infections such as respiratory illness (cold), eye infections (like pink eye), croup, bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Among children, adenovirus typically causes respiratory infections or infections of the digestive tract. The virus can affect a child of any age, from six month old babies to toddlers under five as well as older children.

In fact, most children have had at least one adenovirus infection by age 10. Though symptoms of adenovirus occurs differently in each child, most infections tend to be mild with few symptoms.

What are symptoms of adenovirus?
Adenovirus most commonly affects the respiratory system or the digestive system.

Respiratory symptoms usually start two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include:

Runny nose
Sore throat
Severe cough
Swollen lymph nodes
Pink eye

Symptoms of digestive tract infections usually start three to 10 days after exposure to the virus and tend to be more common in younger under five tears. The symptoms include:

Sudden watery diarrhoea
Belly (abdominal) pain
Symptoms of adenovirus infections can be similar to other health conditions so it’s important to make sure you consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis if your child is suffering from any of the above symptoms.

How is adenovirus linked to rise in hepatitis among kids?

Two independent, preliminary studies from UK researchers have found that there was high level of adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2) in the blood or liver cells of all but one of 25 children who became ill with unexplained hepatitis.

The study also found that young hepatitis patients with adenovirus were much more likely to have a genetic mutation that might make their immune systems overreact to a viral infection.

Usually severe hepatitis among children is rare. But this April a reported rise in hepatitis A, B, or C virus coincided with a spring spike in adenovirus infections, which lent the findings of the studies some credibility.

However, neither of the studies have been peer reviewed so outside researchers are cautious about the findings.

Saul Karpen, a paediatric gastroenterologist at Emory University School of Medicine said: “It’s intriguing for sure, but it’s a very small number of cases and controls. It could be associations and not causation.”