Adenovirus could be behind cases of child hepatitis

Officials still don't know what is causing the alarming rise in cases. Credit: PA

The number of investigated cases of hepatitis among children under 10 has risen to 111, health officials have confirmed.

Most of the cases of liver inflammation were in children under five, though a small number of cases in children over 11 are also being examined, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Of the confirmed cases, 81 live in England, 14 are in Scotland, 11 are in Wales and five are in Northern Ireland.

Last Thursday the government said it was investigating 108 cases, meaning three more have been discovered in the past few days.

The number of children who have required a liver transplant has risen to 10 in the UK.

There have been no deaths, the UKHSA added.

Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA, said: "Parents and guardians should be alert to the signs of hepatitis, including jaundice, and to contact a healthcare professional if they are concerned."

The cases have not been caused by the usual viruses that cause hepatitis A – E and data gathered has “increasingly” suggested that the rise in severe cases of hepatitis may be linked to a group of viruses called adenoviruses, the agency said.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a broad term which describes an inflammation of the liver.

It is usually caused by a virus, though it can also occur due to liver damage from drinking alcohol, according to the NHS.

There are five types of hepatitis caused by viruses, known as A, B, C, D and E, but none of the cases in seen in children this time seem to have been caused by these.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

  • 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

  • stomach pain

Of 53 cases tested, 40 (75%) showed that adenovirus was the most common pathogen detected.

A total of 16% of cases, meanwhile, were positive for Covid-19, which was not unexpected due to the high rates of the virus during January to April this year.

The agency said there is no link to the coronavirus vaccine as none of the currently confirmed cases in under 10s in the UK is known to have been vaccinated.

Dr Chand said: “Information gathered through our investigations increasingly suggests that this rise in sudden onset hepatitis in children is linked to adenovirus infection. However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes."