Six US states report an unexplained and severe liver disorder in children

‘It seems to be associated with adenovirus, but it isn’t a slam dunk,’ Fauci says of ‘mystery’ disease

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 28 April 2022 16:16
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Rare liver illness in children a ‘medical mystery,’ says specialist

At least six states across the US have reported either confirmed or suspected instances of a mysterious liver disorder in children also found in countries all over the world.

Cases have been confirmed in four states – Delaware, Alabama, North Carolina and Illinois, and officials in New York state and Wisconsin say they are looking into reports of paediatric hepatitis – liver inflammation – that concur with the description issued last week by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 160 cases of liver inflammation have been reported in children without other health problems in around a dozen countries, such as the US, Canada, and Japan, Bloomberg reported.

The disorder has been found mostly in children under the age of 10, with a few of them needing liver transplants.

Researchers are looking into possible connections to infection with adenoviruses, which is a group of pathogens that more often cause symptoms of a cold and Covid-19.

The chief medical adviser to the president and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that reports of the disease are still being gathered and that it’s too soon to say what’s behind its spread.

“It’s still a mystery,” Dr Fauci said, according to Bloomberg. “It seems to be associated with adenovirus, but it isn’t a slam dunk.”

Suspected cases in the US started to be reported last week following CDC notices being sent to nine healthcare providers concerning nine severe hepatitis cases without a determined cause in Alabama kids aged between one and six who were previously healthy.

Lab tests found that several children had adenovirus type 41, which most often leads to paediatric acute gastroenteritis – sometimes referred to as stomach flu. This can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and at times worse issues.

North Carolina found cases in two children last month. Both have recovered and none of them was found to have been infected with adenovirus, officials said.

On Monday, Illinois officials said they had found three cases of severe paediatric hepatitis, leading to one liver transplant.

On Tuesday, officials in Delaware said they had found a case in a child under the age of five who is now in hospital.

Officials in New York and Wisconsin are looking at several cases that seem to match the CDC description.

Paediatric infectious disease doctor at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Dr Tina Tan, said the cases could be caused by a viral organism since they’re are appearing in clusters, Bloomberg reported.

“What’s most unusual about all of this is that adenovirus does not usually cause severe hepatitis in kids with no underlying health conditions,” Dr Tan said, adding that about 75 per cent of cases around the world have been connected to adenovirus.

While several of the children have also tested positive for Covid-19, Dr Tan said it’s unlikely that the liver disorder has been caused by Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that leads to Covid-19.

None of the cases found has been connected to the group of viruses that are known to lead to acute hepatitis.

Children are usually vaccinated against hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and C aren’t as commonly found in children as the infections are most usually spread via sexual contact or shared needles.

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