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Friday, December 09, 2022

Mysterious liver disease seen in children in US, Europe

NEW YORK — Health officials in several countries are investigating mysterious cases of severe liver disease in children, and they think it may be related to a type of virus commonly associated with colds.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that Britain is investigating at least 74 cases of hepatitis or liver inflammation in children. The WHO said that three similar cases are being investigated in Spain and some in Ireland.

Meanwhile, US health officials say they are investigating nine such cases. All were in Alabama, but officials say they want to see if there are elsewhere.

“Given the increase in cases over the past month and increased case-finding activities, more cases are expected in the coming days,” WHO officials said in a statement.

The US children were between 1 and 6 years old, and had two required liver transplants. WHO officials said European cases are in the same age range, although some are older.

The WHO first became aware of the unusual disease earlier this month, when it learned of liver problems in 10 children in Scotland. One fell ill in January and nine others in March. All became seriously ill and were diagnosed with hepatitis after being taken to the hospital.

The liver processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infection. The infection caused symptoms such as jaundice, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Hepatitis can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Since then, British health officials have identified at least 64 more cases. The WHO said on Friday that no one had died, but six needed a liver transplant.

Laboratory testing has ruled out hepatitis types A, B, C and E viruses that commonly cause such diseases. Officials say they are not aware of international travel or other factors that could put children at risk.

But he noted that there has been a recent increase in the prevalence of adenoviruses.

There are dozens of adenoviruses, many of them associated with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat and pink eye. But some versions can trigger other problems, including inflammation in the stomach and intestines.

Adenovirus has previously been linked to hepatitis in children, but mostly in children with weakened immune systems.

Some European children tested positive for adenovirus, and some tested positive for COVID-19. But more laboratory work is needed to rule out any possible association with the specific virus, WHO said.

Alabama health officials say they are seeing an increase in hepatitis in children since November. In each case, the child tested positive for adenovirus. Officials are searching for a link to a particular variant – adenovirus 41 – that is commonly associated with inflammation of the gut.

Health officials said none of the Alabama cases had an underlying health condition that would put them at increased risk of liver disease.

“Adenoviruses may be the cause at this time, but investigators are still learning more — including ruling out more common causes of hepatitis,” the CDC said in a statement.

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