The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now confirmed at least 180 cases of acute hepatitis with an unknown cause among children — an increase from the 109 cases reported earlier this month, federal officials confirmed Wednesday. .
36 states and territories have reported cases so far, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is working with health departments and doctors across the country to identify and investigate the cause of the mysterious pediatric illness.
“It is important to note that acute hepatitis in children is still rare. However, we encourage parents and caregivers to be aware of the symptoms of hepatitis — particularly jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin or eyes — and to contact their child’s health care provider with any concern,” he wrote. Officials in a press release on Wednesday.
Officials said that several additional cases were reported after the CDC announcement was released, and so may ultimately not be related to it. They also said that the issues were not necessarily new.
The officials added, “While this may appear to be a significant increase in the number of patients under investigation over the past two weeks, it is important to understand that the vast majority of these are what we consider to be ‘retrospective’ patients.”
Earlier this month, the CDC reported that five children died during the outbreak. Officials said no additional deaths have been reported since February, and the proportion of patients needing a liver transplant has fallen to 9% since May 5 from 15%.
At the time of their announcement, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the majority of sick children had fully recovered, officials said.
It’s not clear what causes hepatitis, but the leading theory is adenoviruses, which usually cause a mild, cold-like or flu-like illness. They are also investigating whether there is a link to previous infection with COVID-19, both on its own and in connection with the adenovirus.
Scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Tuesday that there have been at least 429 probable cases of unknown severe hepatitis reported worldwide. Forty other cases are awaiting classification by the World Health Organization.
Cases of acute hepatitis in children “always happen,” says Dr Philippa Easterbrook, a medical expert with the WHO’s Global Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Programme, with some causing severe liver disease. However, accidents were always “rare”.
Twenty-two countries have now reported probable cases, 12 of which have reported more than five probable cases. At least six children died, and 26 children required transplants. Overall, 75% of cases occurred in children under the age of five.
Easterbrook said the main working hypothesis for what may have been the driver of the outbreak remains a possible link to adenovirus. In the United States, adenoviruses are detected in nearly half of children and “remain a strong leader,” the CDC writes.
Researchers are currently running tests to see if there is any link to COVID-19.
“Importantly,” Easterbrook said, “global officials are looking to determine if there is a link between COVID-19 and the adenovirus to see if the two infections “work together as catalysts, either by enhancing susceptibility to infection or creating an abnormal response.”
“There are interesting connections in the scientific literature that raise a little more about those mechanisms and about whether a previous infection with COVID in children probably some time ago, may have persisted and remained in the gut, and then a subsequent adenovirus infection may have resulted from the infection,” Easterbrook explained. The immune system is activated and causes inflammation.
However, at this time, Easterbrook noted that this is only a hypothesis and not data based on studies, highlighting the importance of testing for current and past COVID-19 infections.
“We know that COVID in adults can be associated with hepatitis, but little is known about what happens in children,” Easterbrook noted.