Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It may be caused by a virus. In that case, we call it ‘viral hepatitis’. The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. The Netherlands has a National Immunisation Programme (NIP) to vaccinate children against hepatitis B. Hepatitis may also be caused by something other than a virus. Toxic substances, medication or autoimmune diseases may also cause it.

One of the symptoms of hepatitis is yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eye. This is called jaundice. Hepatitis can also cause flu-like symptoms. In serious cases, patients may feel drowsy and their blood may coagulate (thicken). If that happens, they may need a liver transplant.

Current: more cases of acute hepatitis among young children

At the moment, several countries are seeing a remarkable increase in the number of young children with severe acute hepatitis. In the Netherlands, fourteen children have already fallen seriously ill this year (latest reports date from early May). Three of them needed a liver transplant. Normally, this only happens around four times a year in cases of acute liver failure.

There are more than a hundred cases in various countries. These include the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, the Republic of Ireland and the United States. The trend was first discovered in the United Kingdom. In that country, more than 70 children with hepatitis were taken to hospital in the first months of this year alone. Most patients are aged between two and five.

We are trying to find the cause

Hepatitis has a number of possible causes. It is often caused by a specific hepatitis virus, but for these children this is not the case. We do not yet know why they have fallen ill. Researchers in the Netherlands are now trying to find the cause. RIVM is doing this together with medical specialists, laboratories and research centres throughout the Netherlands. Internationally, we are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).