An analysis on Friday of mysterious cases of hepatitis in very young children in the United States led the American health authorities to favor the trace of an adenovirus to explain these serious liver infections, but without establishing it as the definitive cause.
• Also read: Hepatitis in childhood: an unexplained phenomenon
• Also read: Mysterious childhood hepatitis in five European countries
Adenoviruses are more common viruses and are known to cause breathing difficulties, conjunctivitis or even indigestion.
The United States is far from the only country affected by this unexplained hepatitis phenomenon: dozens of cases have been identified across Europe, raising fears of a new epidemic.
“As of this writing, we believe an adenovirus may be the cause of these cases, but other environmental factors are still under investigation,” wrote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the country’s leading federal public health agency.
More specifically, the CDC is pointing a finger at the so-called “type 41” adenovirus, which is best known to date for causing severe gastroenteritis.
Adenoviruses are well identified as causes of hepatitis, but so far only in immunocompromised children (ie whose immune system is weakened).
A total of nine cases identified in Alabama between October 2021 and February 2022 were investigated in depth.
The children were about one to six years old and otherwise all healthy.
Most of the children suffered from vomiting and diarrhea and some breathing difficulties.
Two children had to undergo liver transplants. All are currently cured or in remission.
The nine small patients were found to be carriers of the adenovirus. Five cases could be analyzed in the laboratory, then the adenovirus type 41 was detected.
The CDC has ruled out several other causes, including COVID-19 infection and hepatitis A, B, and C viruses.
Six of the nine patients also tested positive for Epstein-Barr virus, but they “did not have antibodies, suggesting past infection, no longer active,” the American agency wrote.
She assured that she was in close contact with the European health authorities.
Cases are also being investigated in other US states. Wisconsin health officials said this week they are reviewing four possible cases in children, including one death.
Last week, the CDC issued a health alert for physicians to notify authorities of any suspected case of hepatitis of unknown origin.