Last reviewed 13 May 2022

The UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) is working alongside other UK health agencies to investigate a rise in cases of sudden onset hepatitis (liver inflammation) in younger children.

The cases are predominantly in children under five years old who showed initial symptoms of gastroenteritis illness such as diarrhoea and nausea, followed by the onset of jaundice.

The latest UKHSA update shows that the total number of UK cases is 163 as of 3 May 2022, and of these children, 11 have received a liver transplant.

The UKHSA has told parents to be alert to the signs of hepatitis, including jaundice — which causes the yellowing of the eyes and skin — and contact a healthcare professional if concerned.

The investigation suggests that the rise in severe cases of hepatitis may be linked to adenovirus infection, but other causes are still being actively investigated. These include a previous Covid-19 infection or another infection, a change in susceptibility — possibly due to reduced exposure during the pandemic — or a change in the adenovirus genome itself.

There is no evidence of any link to the coronavirus vaccine as the majority of cases are under five years old and are too young to have received the vaccine.

Dr Meera Chand, Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections at UKHSA, 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.

“Parents and guardians should be alert to the signs of hepatitis (including jaundice) and to contact a healthcare professional if they are concerned. Normal hygiene measures such as thorough handwashing (including supervising children) and good thorough respiratory hygiene help to reduce the spread of many common infections, including adenovirus.

“Children experiencing symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection including vomiting and diarrhoea should stay at home and not return to school or nursery until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped.”