From hepatitis to colds, has the pandemic impacted our kids’ immunity?

When Alan Raine was told doctors had put his three year old daughter Lola-Rose into an induced coma last month, the 27-year-old from County Durham felt as though his heart had been ripped out.

‘Her liver had suddenly begun to fail due to acute hepatitis and we were told she was going to die unless she had an urgent transplant,’ he remembers.

‘My daughter’s brain had swollen as her liver had been unable to filter out toxins and I just recall thinking this cannot be real, I was so distraught my heart was going to explode. I had to do everything I could to help her survive.’

And Alan did. Without knowing at the time, it turned out that he would prove to be a lifeline for his youngest daughter, who was normally a healthy child. As her condition suddenly deteriorated within a day of being admitted to London’s Kings College Hospital and the family were told she had just hours to live, Alan discovered he was a match and could help save Lola-Rose’s life by donating part of his liver to her.

‘It was a no-brainer,’ he tells ‘They could have told me I wasn’t going to survive the surgery and she was, and I would have gone straight ahead with it.

‘All I was thinking is — she’s going to get better and we can help.’

Now, a month on since she was admitted to hospital, Lola-Rose is back home ‘but very tired’, adds her dad, who works in security. She is expected to make a full recovery but will be monitored for the rest of her life to ensure her liver is working properly. 

Lola Rose had to be put into an induced coma while she battled hepatitis (Picture: Supplied)

As for Alan, he describes the only pain he is feeling after the operation is a mental one, with the thought of losing his daughter still playing on his mind.

‘No parent should ever have to watch their child almost die right in front of their eyes,’ he says. ‘It’s your worst nightmare.’

It is believed that Lola-Rose fell sick after catching an adenovirus infection – a common virus linked with many common colds — which is driving a surge in cases of sudden onset hepatitis in children in the UK, with 110 cases so far identified in this country. 

As the spread of the illness continues to grow, Alan is calling on parents to know the symptoms to look out for, which include dark urine, jaundice, joint and stomach pain.

‘Thank goodness Lola’s mum Jane acted quickly as she suspected jaundice when she noticed the colour change in our daughter’s eyes, but we didn’t know the cause behind it,’ he explains. ‘There was a tinge in her eyes, plus at first we suspected a tummy bug as she was vomiting but I’ve now learnt that the signs of hepatitis can show themselves with diarrhoea and nausea, as well as body aches and a temperature.’

As health officials continue to urgently investigate the rise in hepatitis cases that has led to 10 UK children receiving liver transplants, there is a lot of guesswork about what is causing it. The good news is that scientists have ruled out it is specifically related to Covid and that the illness is not a side effect of the vaccination.

Lola smiling in her hospital bed, next to her dad

Lola Rose is now home, after spending a month in hospital (Picture: Supplied)

‘Lola-Rose never had the Covid vaccination as it was only being given to under-fives who were vulnerable,’ adds Alan. ‘Up until she was admitted to hospital, our daughter never had any medical issues. She was a perfectly fit and bubbly child.’

However, while there’s no direct link between coronavirus and the outbreak, Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UK Health Security Agency, has said it could be connected to the pandemic. 

‘Younger children were getting infected by the virus [adenovirus] as they had not been exposed to it during the formative stages that they’ve gone through during the pandemic,’ she explained last week at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon.

‘Lockdowns may have weakened the immunity of children and left them more susceptible to the virus.’

While hepatologist Professor Taylor-Robinson, who works at Imperial College London, is keen to point out there is no reason to panic over the recent surge in cases, he says that children mixing in nurseries and schools may have lower immunity to seasonal adenoviruses than in previous years because of restrictions.

‘This means they could be more at risk of developing hepatitis because their immune response is weaker to the virus,’ he tells

Although it has been a very traumatic time for the parents of Lola-Rose, leading paediatrician Professor Alastair Sutcliffe says that most cases reported so far have fortunately been mild in comparison.

According to Professor Taylor-Robinson our pandemic bodies have become a lot more sensitive to germs (Picture: Getty Images)

Echoing the words of Professor Taylor-Robinson, the University College London specialist urged parents to ‘remain calm’, while adding, “It could be that our pandemic bodies have become a lot more sensitive to germs we weren’t exposed to over the last few years.

‘But now, as all restrictions have been lifted, many of us are going back to pre-pandemic life with an ongoing pandemic body – which means we haven’t quite caught up. It obviously has taken a toll on our bodies and with that it just needs time to get back to normal.’

Karli Buchling has a three-year old daughter and an 11-month-old son, and says she has grown concerned by the amount of illnesses and bugs her kids have picked up since lockdown. 

‘I’ve had this discussion with so many of my friends just this week, as I know several kids coming down with colds and other illnesses out the blue,’ she says. ‘And everyone is of the same opinion – our immune systems took a beating with being isolated and wearing masks, which means we haven’t been exposed to not only, germs and other antibodies, but even bacteria which helps build our immune systems.’

‘Since leaving lockdown in July 2021 the kids have been battling all sorts of viruses,’ adds Kari, 35, who runs a pregnancy pillow company. ‘The worst being a cold that hangs around for at least two weeks at a time.’

Karli, with her husband and two children

Karli says she and other parents have noticed a surge in kids illnesses since lockdown lifted (Picture: Supplied)

She goes on to explain that both her children start off getting a bad case of conjunctivitis and a runny nose. 

‘Although they don’t get a temperature, they both feel poorly with it and Anna has started to get tonsillitis too. They have a lot of phlegm, sore throat, ears and headaches.  They recover for a month at most and then it all starts again, and has been on-going.’

Karli, who lives in the Cotswolds, is adamant lockdown has played a huge part in her kids developing viruses, pointing out that the family lead a very healthy life.

‘We have been religious with going to the local forests to play in the dirt,’ she says. ‘The whole family takes vitamin D and a multivitamin daily. I’ve even made an essential oil concoction that we rub under their feet at night after a bath.  Recently my husband and I, who have also suffered with more colds than usual, have been taking daily immune booster shots that I make at home with oranges, honey, garlic, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne pepper. We maintain a healthy diet and love exercising so truly believe lockdown has proved a huge tipping point in our kids who were never poorly now getting numerous ailments.’

Another parent concerned about the pandemic having an effect on her children’s physical health is 40-year-old Natalie Ormond, who lives in Leeds. Her two sons, aged eight and six, have both been suffering with ongoing colds and a constant feeling of being run down. What is more concerning though is that her eldest, who has asthma, is now suffering more than ever.

Natalie says her eldest son’s asthma calmed down during lockdown, but has flared up since (Picture: Supplied)

‘My son was hospitalised for a week just before the first lockdown as he had a bad case of asthma,’ she explains. ‘We had to shield for 12 weeks and were very cautious about mixing in between lockdowns. As his health was better than ever during that period because colds and viruses were an asthma trigger for him and by not mixing with other people it meant none of us got ill.’

However, as soon as her son returned to school he had lots of colds, more so than usual, and had to take days of school ill as he was so wiped out.

‘Aside from that one hospital admission he’d never had a day of school pre-pandemic,’ explains Natalie. ‘Now, it’s not just the kids feeling it but we are all constantly run down. It’s a bit like when they were pre-schoolers and caught everything going around at nursery. Except now they are aged eight and six so we thought those days were over.’

With many families facing the same issues, it is a very worrying and stressful time for parents who are seeing a marked increase in their kid’s health issues. However, according to Professor of paediatrics Adam Finn, who works at the University of Bristol and is head of the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, while we are not in the grip of a health epidemic, it will take about two years for our immune systems to get back to normal. 

‘In short, lockdown has not screwed our immunity,’ he says. ‘During that time all the usual infections we see in children disappeared as they were obviously not mixing with each other.

‘Things like bacterial meningitis, influenza and pneumonia for example practically vanished, but then of course when things went back to normal life that changed.

‘Lockdown may have made them immune to some illnesses but immunity is not something that goes up and down,’ adds Professor Finn. ‘Yes, for a couple of years, things will be a bit erratic and kids’ health issues will come to surface but that will all sort itself out and things will certainly get back to normal.’

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