Eleven children in the UK have received liver transplants after developing hepatitis, in an outbreak that has infected hundreds of young people around the world.
Health authorities are struggling to find the cause of the mysterious upsurge but say that it may be linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK Health Security Agency — which is responsible for UK-wide public health protection and infectious disease capability — on Friday released its latest research into the surge first reported earlier this year.
At least 163 children in the UK have developed sudden onset hepatitis, with 11 being forced to undergo a liver transplant, according to the UKHSA.
It said that no children have died from the potentially fatal blood condition.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that can cause inflammation of the liver and liver failure in the worst instances. Jaundice and vomiting have been the most common symptoms experienced by the children affected.
As of May 4, over 200 cases had been reported by the World Health Organisation in 20 different countries — including Ireland, the US, Israel and Japan. Seventeen children had required a liver transplant.
The UKHSA said that it still did not know the cause of the surge, but said it was possibly linked to common cold virus known as an adenovirus.
Research is continuing into the possibility that a previous Covid infection may have made children more susceptible to developing the disease.
A change in the adenovirus genome is also being investigated.
Scientists have stressed that there is no evidence of any link to the Covid-19 vaccine and that as the majority of cases are under 5, they are too young to have received the vaccine.
“Our investigations continue to suggest that there is an association with adenovirus and our studies are now testing this association rigorously”, Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA, said.
“We are also investigating other contributors, including prior Sars-COV-2, and are working closely with the NHS and academic partners to understand the mechanism of liver injury in affected children.”
She said that the likelihood of developing hepatitis was “extremely low” but warned parents to be wary of signs of jaundice ― particularly a yellow tinge in the whites of the eyes.