A WAVE of colds and tummy bugs after Covid rules were lifted caused a surge in rare hepatitis in children, scientists say.
At least 12 kids under the age of 10 have needed liver transplants and 263 have been hospitalised with the mystery illness.
Doctors were baffled because the young patients were not testing positive for the hepatitis bug.
But they now believe the cases were caused by a spike in two viruses that combined to trigger liver damage in some children.
Two studies blame a bug called adeno-associated virus 2 and say it spread alongside other common adenoviruses, which cause colds or diarrhoea and vomiting.
Serious hepatitis cases were not noticed in the past because they were spread out – but an infections spike when Covid restrictions ended meant dozens came along at once.
Dr Antonia Ho, from Glasgow University, said: “All the measures we put in place to reduce transmission of coronavirus meant there was much reduced circulation of seasonal viruses.
“Now that children are back at school and mixing, seasonal viruses are transmitting and circulating outside of what we would normally expect.”
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The viruses are usually harmless and most kids catch them and recover by the age of three.
But a small percentage get seriously ill if they catch both at the same time, the researchers said.
Kids in the studies had much higher than average rates of adeno-associated virus 2 – and a gene that raised their hepatitis risk.
Experts ruled out Covid and said blood tests proved many of the children had never caught coronavirus or had a vaccine.
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Cases of the rare liver disease peaked in April and are now tumbling as virus infection rates go back to normal.
Dr Meera Chand, from the UK Health Security Agency, said: “There is a very clear decline in the number of cases, almost back to the background rates.”
Signs of hepatitis to look for
While hepatitis in children is still very rare, keep an eye out for these signs:
- Dark urine
- Pale, grey-coloured poo
- Itchy skin
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Muscle and joint pain
- A high temperature
- Feeling and being sick
- Feeling unusually tired all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Tummy pain
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