Hepatitis Cases in Children in US, Europe Puzzle Investigators

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Public health officials from several countries are investigating dozens of cases of severe hepatitis in young children. The source of the infections is unknown.

Seventy-four cases have been reported in the United Kingdom, there are three documented cases in Spain, and there are also similar cases being reported in Denmark and the Netherlands, according to an article in Science . On April 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that nine cases have been recorded in Alabama since the fall of 2021. All cases in the United States have been in children between 1 and 6 years old, and two children have needed liver transplants.

Some suspect that the disease may be caused by an adenovirus, as about half of the children sickened in the United Kingdom and all the cases in the United States have tested positive for a form of the virus. While adenovirus can cause hepatitis in children, it is usually in those who are immunocompromised.

Officials are currently exploring if these cases are linked to a version of the virus called adenovirus 41, which is associated with gut inflammation. The most recent case in Alabama was reported in February, and five of the nine children in the state with these puzzling cases of hepatitis have tested positive for adenovirus 41.

There have yet to be any links among the cases in Alabama, and investigators in the United Kingdom have also not found any connections in their cases, STAT News reports.

“CDC is working with state health departments to see if there are additional US cases, and what may be causing these cases,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson, in a statement to STAT News. “At this time, adenovirus may be the cause for these, but investigators are still learning more — including ruling out the more common causes of hepatitis.”

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