HealthDay News — Five children have died in a mysterious wave of acute hepatitis that has sickened dozens of children across the United States during the past seven months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday.
Overall, public health officials have identified 109 children in 25 U.S. states and territories stricken with the liver condition, according to Jay Butler, M.D., the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC. Their average age has been 2 years. “More than 90 percent of these patients under investigation were hospitalized, 14 percent received liver transplants, and more than half had a confirmed adenovirus infection,” Butler said during a media briefing on the cases.
Despite the recent reports, pediatric hepatitis remains rare in the United States, and there has not been a significant overall increase in cases or liver transplants among children, Butler added. He also noted that a majority of the patients identified, who were otherwise healthy, recovered fully from their illness.
There also are hundreds of other pediatric hepatitis cases that have been reported in countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The United Kingdom alone has reported more than 160 cases under evaluation, Butler noted.
A specific strain of adenovirus has been identified in at least some of the children, leading experts to suspect it might be triggering the life-threatening liver inflammation, the CDC said. However, adenovirus 41 has not been previously identified as a cause of hepatitis in otherwise healthy children.
It is also possible that an adenovirus could be causing an immune response in the body that is triggering the hepatitis, Butler said. “The viral load by the time of diagnosis is fairly low,” he explained. “That may be a reflection of the fact there is an immune response that’s kicking in that’s beginning to limit the amount of virus that’s in the body, and may also be potentially damaging the liver.”