By DANICA KIRKA, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — British health officials investigating the cause of a spike in acute hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, in children said there is growing evidence it is linked to a common virus.

The UK Health Security Agency has recorded 111 cases of unexplained hepatitis in children under 10 since January. Ten of the children needed a liver transplant. The UN health agency said it had so far received reports of at least 169 cases of “acute hepatitis of unknown origin” and one death had been reported.

Although the cause of the illnesses is unclear, a prime suspect is adenovirus, which has been detected in 75% of confirmed cases tested, the UK agency said in a statement on Monday.

Adenovirus, a common group of viruses, is now circulating in children at above-average levels after dropping to unusually low levels during the pandemic. One line of inquiry being explored is that the outbreak may be linked to an increase in common viral infections after COVID-19 restrictions were phased out. Children who have not been exposed to adenovirus in the past two years may now be hit harder when exposed to the viruses.

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“Information gathered from our surveys increasingly suggests that this rise in sudden hepatitis in children is linked to adenovirus infection,” said Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA. . “However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes.”

Chand presented the UK data on Monday at an emergency session of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon.

The usual viruses that cause infectious inflammation of the liver – hepatitis A to E – were not detected in any of the 111 cases studied in the UK. The victims suffered from symptoms such as jaundice, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

The liver processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. Hepatitis can be life threatening if left untreated.

There are dozens of adenoviruses, many of which are associated with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, and pink eyes.

US authorities said earlier this month they were investigating a cluster of otherwise unexplained cases of hepatitis diagnosed in nine Alabama children who also tested positive for the adenovirus. In it, officials explore a link to a particular version – adenovirus 41 – which is normally associated with intestinal inflammation.

British public health officials have ruled out any link to COVID-19 vaccines, saying none of the children involved have been vaccinated.

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