Health authorities said on Thursday that 108 cases of pediatric hepatitis have been identified since the start of this year, with most of the children aged between one and five-years-old.
The cases of eight children were so severe that they had received a liver transplant, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical advisor, said analysis has been underway to pinpoint a number of possible causes behind the surge in early childhood hepatitis.
“The most likely” trigger was an adenovirus – a group of viruses which usually cause colds, vomiting and diarrhoea in children.
UKHSA has said that a possible explanation is that social distancing rules imposed during the Covid pandemic may have led to young children being first exposed to adenovirus slightly later in their early years and having a “more vigorous” immune response as a result.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned it was likely that more cases of hepatitis among young children in the UK were likely to be reported in the coming days.
“Given the increase in cases reported over the past one month and enhanced case search activities, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days,” a WHO spokesperson warned.
Similar cases of hepatitis thought to be linked to a cold virus among children have been reported in the US, Israel, and in Europe – including Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
A common cold virus – known as an adenovirus – has been confirmed in several of the European cases, but not all.
In the US state of Alabama, the public health department said nine cases had been found in one- to six-year-olds, with two of them having needed liver transplants.