Pet dogs are now being investigated as a potential cause of a mysterious hepatitis outbreak among young children across the world.
Health chiefs have claimed that a ‘high’ number of the children aged 10 and under, come from families that own dogs or have had ‘exposures’ to them.
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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), who are tasked with finding out why dozens of children have developed the unusual type of liver disease, said the “significance of this finding is being explored”.
The Mail Online reports: Experts said the link was a ‘bit far-fetched’ given how common dog ownership is in the UK.
Meanwhile, officials today revealed another 18 youngsters have been struck down with the illness, bringing the UK’s total to 163 since January. Eleven have needed a liver transplant.
Nearly 300 cases have now been detected across the world, figures suggest. One death has been confirmed, while four are under investigation. But none of these are in the UK.
Scientists have been left puzzled over what is causing the illness — with the usual hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses excluded from laboratory test results.
Health chiefs believe the culprit may be an adenovirus. However, investigations are ongoing because they usually cause colds and stomach bugs.
Two strains of adenovirus are known to infect dogs, including one which causes infectious hepatitis. The other is one of the pathogens that triggers ‘kennel cough’.
Three quarters of the UK’s 163 hepatitis-stricken children have tested positive for adenoviruses, analysis shows.
But the UKHSA admitted it was possible the others could also have had the virus because of the way the testing is carried out.
Some of the negative cases had only looked for adenovirus in respiratory and faecal samples, even though it is mainly detected in the blood.
Academics believe lockdowns may have weakened the immunity of children and left them more susceptible to the virus.
But the UKHSA also acknowledged that an ‘exceptionally large’ adenovirus wave could be why the condition is appearing more frequently than expected, or it may be even be down to a mutated form of adenovirus.
Hepatitis is usually rare in children, but experts have already spotted more cases in the UK since January than they would normally expect in a year.
Cases are of an ‘unknown origin’ and are also severe.
Another theory is that children may have been battling the adenovirus at the same time as Covid, or that the complication may be long Covid.
However, health officials have ruled out the Covid vaccine as a possible cause because the majority of the ill British children haven’t been vaccinated due to their young age.