US health officials said Friday they are investigating 109 cases of unexplained hepatitis in children in the United States, including five deaths.
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These cases of severe hepatitis are also a concern in Europe, where many cases have also been detected and scientists around the world are working to understand the cause.
In the United States, cases have been identified in 25 U.S. states and territories, and affected children have a median age of just 2 years, an official with the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) said during a news conference.
Due to their young age, most of the affected children were not eligible for vaccination against COVID-19.
“Vaccination against COVID-19 is not the cause” of this disease, pounded Jay Butler, deputy director in charge of infectious diseases at the CDC, saying he wants to put an end to the rumors circulating the internet.
He clarified that the COVID-19 infection itself has not been ruled out as a possible cause.
However, the CDC favors tracking a specific type of adenovirus – viruses that are fairly common but have not previously been known to cause cases of hepatitis in healthy children.
It has been confirmed that more than half of affected children in the United States have tested positive for the so-called “type 41” adenovirus, previously better known as the cause of gastroenteritis. This adenovirus has also been found in many affected children outside of the United States.
One hypothesis is that the response to this adenovirus could be disrupted by another factor, such as infection with COVID-19 or environmental factors, such as exposure to animals or a toxin.
“Investigators here and around the world are working hard to determine the cause,” said Jay Butler.
Parents are encouraged to watch their children for symptoms (vomiting, dark urine, light-colored stools, jaundice, etc.) and to contact their doctor with any concerns.
Two weeks ago, the CDC issued a health alert for physicians to notify authorities of any suspected case of hepatitis of unknown origin.
The 109 cases detected occurred in the past seven months, Butler said. And 14% of affected children had to have a liver transplant.
If 90% of the children had to be hospitalized, in most cases they recovered afterwards.
“We know this news can be worrying, especially for parents of young children. It’s important to remember that this severe hepatitis is rare,” said Mr Butler reassured.
He said the number of visits to the pediatric emergency room for hepatitis in the United States, unlike the UK, is not unusual at this time.
About 163 cases have been identified in the United Kingdom, British health authorities said on Friday.
At least more than 200 cases have been identified outside the United States, another CDC official said.