CDC investigating 109 liver diseases in children, including 5 deaths

US health officials are now investigating more than 100 possible cases of a mysterious and serious liver disease in children, including five deaths. (Steve Allen, Alamy)

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NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are investigating more than 100 possible cases of a mysterious and serious liver disease in children, including five deaths.

About two dozen states reported suspected cases after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called on doctors to be on the lookout for surprising cases of hepatitis. Cases date back to late October in children under 10 years of age. So far, only nine cases have been confirmed in Alabama.

“We’re casting a wide net to broaden our understanding,” Dr. Jay Butler of the CDC said Friday.

What is causing the diseases is not clear. Adenovirus was detected in half of the children, “but we don’t know if it’s the cause,” she said.

There are dozens of adenoviruses, many associated with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, and conjunctivitis. But some versions can trigger other problems, including inflammation in the stomach and intestines. Officials are exploring a link to a particular version that is normally associated with intestinal inflammation.

US health officials have seen no evidence of an unusually large wave of adenovirus infections, even though many doctors don’t routinely test for it.

This week, World Health Organization officials said they had reports of nearly 300 probable cases in 20 countries.

In the US, most of the children were toddlers, nearly all were hospitalized, and eight received liver transplants.

“It’s still a very rare occurrence,” Butler said. “Most of these cases have recovered and made a full recovery.”

The mystery dates back to November, when Alabama health officials began investigating the first of nine cases of severe hepatitis in children in that state. None tested positive for the viruses that commonly cause hepatitis. However, the test was positive for adenovirus.

Butler said none of the Alabama children have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That has been ruled out as a possible cause, “and we hope this information will help clear up some of the speculation circulating online.”

Symptoms of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.

In addition to Alabama, the states that reported suspected cases: California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin. Puerto Rico also reported at least one case.

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