Experts have highlighted the potential reason behind a concerning outbreak of hepatitis affecting children under the age of five.

Scientists have warned children are more at risk to the disease due to lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon, Dr Meera Chand, head of infectious diseases at the UK Health Security Agency highlighted “something unusual”.

Dr Chand said: “Clinicians realised we were seeing something unusual… they felt this was exceptional, something you would very rarely see in this age group.

 “So I think our leading hypothesis...would probably be that we have a normal adenovirus circulating.

“We may not have seen as much of it as we have for the past couple of years. But we have a co-factor affecting a particular age group of young children, which is either rendering that infection more severe or causing it to trigger some kind of an immunopathology.”

She added: “Co-factors include a lack of prior exposure of that particular age group during the formative stages they've gone through during the pandemic. Alternatively, a prior infection with Covid or another infection. Or another co-factor could be a toxin drug or an environmental exposure interacting.”

Hepatitis symptoms parents need to look out for

Hepatitis symptoms include:

– 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.
– tummy pain.

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.

The cases are predominantly in children under five who showed initial symptoms of diarrhoea and nausea followed by jaundice.

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.